New CEO of non­profit: ‘Man­u­fac­tur­ing is re­ally cool’

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By An­thony Salamone


Rich Hobbs is the new CEO of Man­u­fac­tur­ers Re­source Cen­ter, a Le­high Val­ley non­profit that helps man­u­fac­tur­ers be­come more ef­fi­cient and helps groom fu­ture ma­chin­ists and other work­ers. Hobbs re­cently re­placed Jack Pfun­der, who re­tired but will con­tinue as a con­sul­tant work­ing on MRC’s “What’s So Cool About Man­u­fac­tur­ing?” school-based, stu­dent-video pro­gram.

Hobbs, who grew up in Philadel­phia, said he has worked with his hands since he was a boy help­ing his fa­ther fix dam­aged ve­hi­cles. He helped in­vent a vari­a­tion of a but­ter­fly wheel early in his ca­reer while at Honey­well In­ter­na­tional Inc. in Fort Wash­ing­ton, Mont­gomery County.

He’s also had his hands in vir­tu­ally all as­pects of man­age­ment, in­clud­ing as gen­eral man­ager of for­mer Air Prod­ucts spinoff Di­a­monex, which is now a divi­sion of Mor­gan Tech­ni­cal Ce­ram­ics in Up­per Ma­cungie Town­ship.

MRC moved July 1, sign­ing a seven-year lease for a nearly 10,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity off In­ter­state 78 and Route 100, in part to be nearer to Berks County, where the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct is led by man­u­fac­tur­ing, thanks to com­pa­nies such as bat­tery-maker East Penn Man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Hobbs talked last week to The Morn­ing Call. Here are ex­cerpts, edited for clar­ity and length.

Q: What led you to man­u­fac­tur­ing? For me, man­u­fac­tur­ing is re­ally cool. It’s an abil­ity to de­sign things and make things. It’s an abil­ity to sat­isfy needs that cus­tomers have. And the ed­u­ca­tion that I got, the me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing de­gree [from Penn State], at least, kind of pushed me in that di­rec­tion. It seemed


like a nat­u­ral.

Q: Who or what in­flu­enced you be­fore col­lege?

Grow­ing up, my dad was a po­lice­man. He used to bring home old mo­tor­cy­cles and


wrecked cars from the district where he worked. So we al­ways had a project or two un­der­way. I had my first dirt bike when I was prob­a­bly 10 years old. We used to

put them to­gether. I got to re­build en­gines, tak­ing things part, putting things back to­gether when I was very young.

Q: Why did you pur­sue this role with MRC?

A: I have known [Pfun­der] for a num­ber of years. I had a good re­la­tion­ship with him, and ac­tu­ally used the MRC when I was with Di­a­monex.

What drove me to this op­por­tu­nity, though, is it’s a chance to help [mul­ti­ple] man­u­fac­tur­ers, not just one. When I worked for Mor­gan, I was help­ing one com­pany. So here’s an op­por­tu­nity to help an en­tire five-county ge­og­ra­phy of man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies, and to me that’s a lit­tle more at­trac­tive than just work­ing for one com­pany. It’s a big­ger chal­lenge; it’s a broader chal­lenge.

Q: Le­high Val­ley Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. touts how man­u­fac­tur­ing is more di­verse than ever and grow­ing since the demise of Beth­le­hem Steel, among other ma­jor in­dus­tries. So how do you see that play­ing out in your role?

A: I think it de­pends on where you are within our ter­ri­tory. If you look at Berks County, for ex­am­ple, man­u­fac­tur­ing is No. 1 at 20% in GDP. You come to Le­high Val­ley, and I think it’s not quite as dom­i­nant but still very prom­i­nent. [Man­u­fac­tur­ing ranks sec­ond to the fi­nance, in­sur­ance and real es­tate cat­e­gory, at $7.4 bil­lion — or 18.4% — of the Le­high Val­ley’s over­all $40.1 bil­lion gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.]

Many of our area clients are grow­ing right now. ATAS is engi­neer­ing a 490,000-square­foot ad­di­tion; B. Braun, 170,000 square feet; Fresh­pet, an­other 100,000 square feet. So many clients are grow­ing their busi­nesses dra­mat­i­cally, and they’re go­ing to need our help with work­force train­ing with ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies.

Q: You re­marked dur­ing Jack Pfun­der’s re­tire­ment event that MRC’s cli­mate is strong but it has some weak spots. Would you elab­o­rate?

A: We re­ceive our money [MRC has a $3 mil­lion an­nual bud­get] from three sources: roughly a third from the fed­eral govern­ment, a third from the state and a third lo­cally. The state and fed­eral fund­ing is fairly fixed. So the piece that we’ve got left is the one-third that we con­trol. How do we take that one-third, and do some­thing with it that re­ally pro­pels the com­pany for­ward?

I think we re­ally have to kind of rein­vent our­selves a bit and come up with new of­fer­ings, new tech­nolo­gies, new things that are ap­pli­ca­ble that we can grow from. A lot of the train­ing that we of­fer … you do the train­ing and you’re done. They may not need you again for an­other two or three years. So what do you do in the in­terim? You have to come up with other ser­vices, other prod­ucts.


Richard Hobbs, new pres­i­dent and CEO of Man­u­fac­tur­ers Re­source Cen­ter, gives a tour in the com­pany’s new lo­ca­tion at 7200A Wind­sor Drive, Up­per Ma­cungie.

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