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Summit Discusses the Future of Manufacturing in a Post-Pandemic Climate

By Colin McEvoy on October 28, 2020

David Beurle, CEO of Future iQ, was the keynote speaker at the 2020 MFG Summit host by the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC).

Economic trends, talent attraction, innovation, digitalization, and the future of manufacturing in a post-pandemic climate were among the topics discussed at the 2020 MFG Summit hosted on Oct. 23 by the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC).

Held virtually this year, the summit showcased manufacturers in Lehigh Valley and other neighboring Pennsylvania counties, and featured speakers and breakout sessions discussing how best practices in manufacturing and how the sector has evolved over time.

“Manufacturing is ascending into a new era,” Don Cunningham, President of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), said in a video introduction of the event.

Around 200 participants attended the online summit. MRC President & CEO Rich Hobbs said manufacturing is a key driver that will help the Lehigh Valley and its surrounding communities weather the coronavirus pandemic and put them in a position of strength after the crisis ends.

There are about 770 manufacturing establishments in the Lehigh Valley, and the sector accounts for more than 34,000 jobs and $7.3 billion of the regional gross domestic product (GDP), Cunningham said.

Manufacturers have added 5,000 jobs in the Lehigh Valley in the past year, and the average weekly wage in the sector is $1,481, about $400 more than the average weekly wage in the region, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Manufacturing is the second-largest economic sector in the Lehigh Valley, which has an unusually balanced and diversified economy, with its GDP spread evenly among its top four sectors.

Mario Vicari, Director with Kreischer Miller, and a speaker at the summit, said such balanced GDPs have helped sustain Lehigh Valley and other regions during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We don’t see the real high highs and we don’t see the real low lows, and the reason has to do with the diversity of the economy,” Vicari said. “If you look at some of the metro areas that are the hardest hit, they are the ones who have heavy concentration in one industry.”

David Beurle, CEO of Future iQ, was the keynote speaker at the 2020 MFG Summit.

Beurle said manufacturers and companies in general must consider the range of plausible futures that will emerge after the COVID-19 crisis ends. This includes which economic trends are being amplified and accelerated by the pandemic, and which ones are permanent changes rather than short-term trends that will end when the crisis subsides.

“In the next decade we’re certainly gonna see some dramatic system shift flips which are going to be permanent changes, and they’re the ones where if you’re on the wrong side of that or you’re not anticipating that, you could get left stranded,” he said.

Among the trends Beurle believes will be accelerated are the reinvention of cities, instant health data, personal recognition and tracking, online commercial and retail, and particularly the application of automation and robotics. He predicts artificial intelligence will change society in the same way the internal combustion engine once did.

“This is one that, if you’re not watching this one, you’re missing something really important,” he said. “Particularly in a manufacturing-type sector, the rise and application of artificial intelligence is the game changer for the decades to come.”

Ken Mall, Managing Director Workforce Consulting, EDSI Solutions, discussed the results of a retention and development best practices study recently conducted in Berks County. It analyzed current employee recruitment, retention, development, satisfaction, and engagement best practices in the Greater Reading and Berks County region.

Among the best practices defined by the study, Mall said, were having a clearly-defined talent strategy in place, strong knowledge of positions and skills needed, efforts for long-term pipeline building, competitive wages, and a customized and streamlined recruiting process.

“Companies that are really performing well in a talent strategy space have a well-defined strategy and are living their strategy, and then they’re always being creative in what they’re doing,” Mall said.

A video from the Made Possible in Lehigh Valley marketing initiative was also shown during the 2020 MFG Summit. The campaign seeks to promote awareness of the region outside of the market, and show that Lehigh Valley is a great place to visit, work, live, and learn.

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