Throughout history, Pennsylvania manufacturers have consistently driven our nation to triumph over its adversaries.
During World War I, Pennsylvania’s industrial firms produced more than half of the firepower supplied to the U.S. Army. When the nation entered the Second World War, Pennsylvania manufacturers once again answered the call by providing one-third of the country’s steel used to build tanks, battleships and other war components.
Today, Pennsylvania is the ninth largest state in terms of U.S. Department of Defense contracts with more than $13.4 billion of goods and services provided annually.
Recent times have presented Pennsylvania and our nation with a new nemesis and an entirely different type of battle. The COVID-19 pandemic caught our world, our state and our communities off-guard as we confronted a threat that was unknown, invisible and deadly.
While healthcare providers and others served as front-line fighters in this unprecedented war, the critical role of Pennsylvania’s manufacturers should also be recognized.
As the nation’s sixth largest state in terms of medical device employment, the nation looked to Pennsylvania’s industrial base for leadership amidst this crisis.
True to form, our manufacturing community did not disappoint.
Throughout the pandemic, more than 8,200 Pennsylvania manufacturers and their 370,000 employees remained operational and continued to produce goods that our domestic economy and citizens needed to remain viable.
Our food, beverage, paper, plastic packaging and chemical plants kept products on store shelves while our advanced electronics, HVAC equipment, medical device, aerospace parts, machine parts and forging facilities continued to produce goods essential to our everyday lives.
Many small and mid-sized manufacturers quickly transitioned to produce medical supplies and products needed for the fight against COVID-19.
Gentex Corporation, a Carbondale-based manufacturer of advanced helmet systems for the Department of Defense, emergency response and industrial safety sectors, expanded its production capacity and introduced the Pureflo 3000 – a fully-integrated respirator and face shield. The company also pivoted to produce a variety of other protective hoods, shields and eyeglasses.
Similarly, i2M, an advanced polymer film manufacturer in Mountain Top, converted its production lines to manufacture a specialized anti-microbial gown appropriate for general and high-risk healthcare settings.
Hayward Laboratories, located in East Stroudsburg, successfully integrated a line of hand sanitizers into their production schedule while Martz Technologies expanded its facility in Columbia County to facilitate the manufacture of face masks using antibacterial fabric (X-Static) made in Noble Biomaterial’s Scranton plant. In their quest to manufacture over one million masks, Martz Technologies created more than 100 new jobs for the region.
While many manufacturers modified their processes and production lines to contribute to the fight against COVID-19, others already in the medical device and equipment supply chain increased their output to meet demand.
Area companies such as Proctor & Gamble (Mehoopany), Pride Mobility (Duryea), Golden Technologies (Old Forge), Intermetro (Wilkes-Barre), PF Nonwovens (Hazleton) and others also rose to the occasion.
Now, as our manufacturers transition to full operations, it is time to ensure that this sector has the resources it needs to fully recover and thrive. A strong commitment from Pennsylvania legislators will undoubtedly yield a high return.
Since 1988, the Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Centers (IRCs) have served Pennsylvania’s small and mid-sized manufacturers with the services and expertise they require to meet the COVID-19 challenge.
Lean manufacturing systems, ISO certifications, new product development processes, supply chain risk mitigation protocols, I.T. infrastructure, cybersecurity frameworks and disaster preparedness & recovery plans have all been provided to manufacturers through their local IRCs in order to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center (NEPIRC) has helped lead the way on all of this.
By remaining open as an essential business throughout the past three months, NEPIRC provided consultative services to dozens of local manufacturers, helping them find new suppliers, implement improved safety measures, locate CDC-approved protective equipment and cleansers, and integrate telework and remote technologies into their operations.
The time to further bolster the strength, resiliency and long-term viability of Pennsylvania’s manufacturers by enhancing investment in its IRC network is now.
Eric Esoda is President/CEO of NEPIRC (Northeastern PA Industrial Resource Center). Writers’ opinions are their own.