Crayola President Interviewed in First Entry of LVEDC’s Executive Virtual Series

By Colin McEvoy on September 15, 2020

LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham interviews Crayola President & CEO Rich Wuerthele for the first entry in LVEDC’s executive virtual interview series.

When the coronavirus outbreak first began in China and Southeast Asia, it harmed Crayola’s competitors who manufactured their products there and imported them back to the U.S. But Crayola avoided that problem because they manufacture here in the Lehigh Valley.

Seventy-five percent of Crayola’s products are made here in the region, according to Crayola President & CEO Rich Wuerthele. The company’s manufacturing facility in Forks Township makes 13 million crayons and 2 million markers each day, generating 90% of the crayons used around the world.

“We need skilled labor; we’ve got the right pool of folks here,” Wuerthele said. “We need dynamic marketers; we can get those folks here. We’ve got and have put all the technology in, and we have profit margins that we’re very comfortable with that allow us to compete around the globe.”

Wuerthele was the subject of the first video interview in a weekly series the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is conducting with new corporate leaders at some of Lehigh Valley’s leading companies and largest employers.

The Lehigh Valley Health Network is the presenting sponsor for the series, with Capital Blue Cross as the premier sponsor. Gold sponsors include BB&T, now Truist and Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba. Crayola and Good Shepherd Rehabilitation are event sponsors for the series; Follett LLC is the interview sponsor, Countess Communications is the production sponsor, and ArtsQuest is the venue sponsor.

New videos are released each Thursday at 3 p.m. on LVEDC’s Facebook page. Current and previous archived videos can be found here and on LVEDC’s YouTube channel. The interview subject on Thursday, Sept. 17, will be Korey Kohl, President of Follett LLC.

The full video interview with Wuerthele can be viewed below. All future videos will air a second time on the Wednesday following their original Thursday release date; the interview with Wuerthele will air again on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m.

Although unemployment in general is higher than usual right now due to the pandemic, Wuerthele said one of Crayola’s biggest challenges is finding the workers the company needs to increase production.

“Our biggest challenge right now is labor,” he said. “We’ve got capacity to run 24/7, but we don’t have the people.”

Over the last 18 months, more than a dozen new executives have been named to run major employers or institutions in the Lehigh Valley, Cunningham said, the highest amount of large employer leadership changeover that he has seen in three decades.

“During these challenging times when we can’t meet and greet and gather in the business and economic development community as we so often do, we felt it was very important for all of you to get a chance to meet our new executives, those who are running our new companies and developing our economy here in the Lehigh Valley,” Cunningham said.

Before joining Crayola in January, Wuerthele was CEO of Home Fragrance Division of Newell Brands, where he was responsible for the popularity of the Yankee Candle brand. He has worked with several iconic brands throughout his career, including Black & Decker, DeWalt, Coleman, and Rubbermaid.

In addition to Crayola’s Forks Township site, the company has a facility in Bethlehem that makes modeling clay and 20,000 Silly Putty eggs a day. The company also operates the Crayola Experience for visitors in Easton.

During his interview with LVEDC, Wuerthele discussed the increased demand for Crayola products during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the period from March to June, Crayola’s sell-through was at various points two or three times higher than the same point the prior year.

“We’re a mission-driven, purpose-driven organization, and our purpose is to help parents and educators raise creatively alive kids,” Wuerthele said. “So in this time of duress, teachers, parents, and families are turning to us to help them as education has moved from the classroom to the family room.”

Wuerthele discussed Crayola’s commitment to sustainability, noting that the company’s facility runs on 100% renewable energy. He also discussed the new Colors of the World initiative, a set of 24 crayons with hues that represent 99% of the skin tones in the world.

Other upcoming interviews in the series will include:

ArtsQuest provided access to indoor space large enough for safe distancing for the interviews. There is no audience for the interviews, which will adhere to public health and social distancing standards.

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