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Manufacturers strive to spur growth

Tribune-Review
| Friday, February 20, 2015 1:51 a.m

Business leaders are working to revive a consortium of manufacturing companies to increase employment and spur economic growth in Armstrong County.

“The consortium will hopefully create a sense of a manufacturing community,” said Justin Nolder, assistant business manager of the Armstrong County Industrial Development Council. “It’s about being able to work with one another, manufacturer to manufacturer.”

Business owners and industrial development officials will meet at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday in Lenape Vo-Tech’s Adult Learning Center in Manor to discuss revival of the Armstrong County Manufacturing Consortium.

Founded in 2002, the consortium’s activity dwindled after longtime Chairwoman Vickie DeThomas stepped down last summer, according to Mary Salony, director of planning and grants administration at Butler’s Tri-County Workforce Investment Board. Her organization works with Armstrong’s consortium and those in Butler and Indiana counties, which all fall under the umbrella of the Tri-County Manufacturing Consortium.

“It’s not that it completely went away, but the active month-to-month group work stopped because their chair left,” she said.

DeThomas, who last year retired as human resources director at FLIR Government Systems in South Buffalo, put her “heart and soul” into the consortium, Saloney said.

“She was instrumental in a lot of different things. The consortium spent a lot of time supporting and promoting youth activities and promoting manufacturing,” Saloney said.

The effort may take a different approach this time around. Organizers are seeking input from the nearly 100 manufacturers invited to the meeting to revive the consortium. Some involved have an idea of the direction the consortium might take.

Walter Sloan, CEO of Sloan Lubrication Systems in South Buffalo, said one area the group wants to address is filling manufacturing jobs.

“We are going to try to narrow the focus on how we can attract worthwhile employees to Armstrong County,” Sloan said.

Sloan would like the group to find ways for businesses to help each other. For example, the consortium could help local companies find the items they need to buy within the county or region instead of sending money out of state, he said.

“Maybe some of these guys build things we could use. Even if that was all we could focus on, how manufacturers in Armstrong could help other manufacturers, that would be cool,” he said.

Joe Goldcamp, general manager of Nature’s Blend Wood Products in Ford City, said he has seen Armstrong’s manufacturing climate change since he was a member of the original consortium. The departure of large employers such as Eljer Plumbing and the emergence of smaller, technology-based operations are the major differences.

“The look of Armstrong has really changed in 15 years,” he said. “We’re really going to focus on what manufacturers need right now.”

Chuck Wetmore, CEO of Kensington HPP in Parks, said the group could identify what the manufacturing sector needs and lobby to get things done to improve the business climate here.

“The larger group we get together, the bigger voice we have,” he said.

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315, or jmartin@tribweb.com.

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