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Thursday 24 August 2017
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New Leadership Brings New Vision

Whether it’s to help reduce inventory, develop a new product or size a new market, the Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC) is a key resource for manufacturers in northwest Pennsylvania. Here, Robert Zaruta, newly appointed president and chief executive officer, talks about the organization and its outlook in the year ahead.

Please provide us with a brief history of the NWIRC.
In 1988, the NWIRC and six other IRCs began providing small and mid-sized manufacturers with needed support and resources in their respective regions. As a result of their success in Pennsylvania and similar initiatives in nearby states, a network of “IRCs” emerged across the country. In the early 1990s, these organizations became affiliates of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) under the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Today, there is an MEP affiliate in each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico, with the seven IRCs in our Commonwealth making up the Pennsylvania MEP. NWIRC is a public and private partnership consisting of NWIRC’s direct support, expertise and resources as an MEP, along with expertise provided by independent service providers, and the investments made by our manufacturing clients for the services they receive.

What types of services does the NWIRC provide?
The NWIRC helps manufacturers improve their competitiveness, grow profitably and create new and expanding job opportunities. Our services begin by understanding the issues and challenges facing manufacturers, by knowing industry trends and emerging technologies, and by offering proven methodologies and world-class best practices as solutions. Our role is to be thought leaders, trusted strategic business advisers and catalysts for change.

You recently were appointed as head of the NWIRC here in NWPA. Tell us about yourself and what skills and experience you bring to the organization.
Prior to this position, I was on staff at the IRC in Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPIRC). During my 16 years at NEPIRC, I was a key member of the management team helping in the development and implementation of the Center’s strategic plans, business models, sales processes, outreach strategies and client engagement management processes. Prior to NEPIRC, I held management positions with Fortune 500, regional and small enterprises. I was also founder and president of a successful start-up company.

What changes have you made since joining the NWPA NWIRC?
By design, I have not made too many changes, at least not major ones. As part of the transition, I wanted to take some time to meet people, ask a lot of questions and gather different perspectives. I have engaged in conversations with manufacturers, business and civic leaders, education and economic partners, legislators, and, of course, NWIRC staff and Board Members. I am confident the insight gathered, combined with my background knowledge and experience, will prove invaluable to identify and implement the changes needed to achieve the vision and goals for the organization.

What is the organization’s vision for 2017 and the near future?
By the end of 2017, if my vision is materializing, we will have increased our market penetration and the financial impact our clients realize with our services. The NWIRC has done exceptionally in Visionseveral key metrics including working with manufacturers previously not served. We need to continue and expand that success as well as serve existing clients in more ways. To accomplish this, we need to excel as solution providers, identify unmet needs and objectives and bring to market new offerings that yield manufacturers high value and a quantifiable return on their investment.

As we enter a new year, what opportunities and challenges do you see for local industry and how can the NWIRC help address them?
Manufacturers in our region tell us that their top three challenges are: implementing strategies that improve efficiencies and reduce costs; identifying new market opportunities for growth; and recruiting, training and maintaining a skilled workforce.

To help address these challenges, we have the expertise on staff who can identify new technologies that significantly improve efficiencies and reduce costs, assess existing technologies and capabilities, and identify new markets and potential customers. We offer a STEM Internship Program that enables manufacturers to gain affordable access to talented engineering students to address specific projects that can improve systems and significantly reduce costs. We also have a vast network of experts and resources that can address just about any situation a manufacturer needs to address.