The Providence Business News 2021 “Stuff” special issue features insights from Polaris MEP Center Director Kathie Mahoney, leading manufacturers Amerisewn and Bradford Soap Works, and Rhode Island Manufacturers Association Executive Director Dave Chenevert, among others from the manufacturing community.
The consensus? RI manufacturers are “stronger, eager to grow.”
‘The flexibility required of Rhode Island manufacturers to stay open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has made many of them stronger, says Kathie Mahoney, center director at Polaris MEP, the state’s manufacturing extension partnership.
“No one was prepared for what happened [in March 2020],” she said. But manufacturers “proved their resiliency.”
Whether it was pivoting to produce much-needed personal protective equipment or offering flexibility to their employees to work from home or take advantage of more-flexible shifts, manufacturers have adapted to meet the needs of both their customers and their employees.
Mahoney says several companies have also pointed to relationships they have with their vendors and customers that have never been stronger.
… However, as business ramps up again, one concern many companies face is finding enough qualified candidates to fill open positions.’
Stuart Benton, CEO and president of personal care products manufacturer Bradford Soap Works Inc., spoke to the staffing issues:
‘“The availability of labor is a challenge in the state,” Benton said … “I was speaking with a business owner who employs over 2,000 people in the state and they were short almost 200 people. We have reemphasized our employee referral program, participated in work fairs and are looking at nontraditional sources of workers, but it is a struggle to fill all of our positions.”‘
The Providence Business News feature also highlights supply chain issues, and the efforts of Polaris MEP and partners to help companies shift to local sources.
‘“We have an opportunity to bring work into Rhode Island,” Chenevert said …
RIMA, Polaris MEP, Bryant University’s John H. Chafee Center for International Business and the state have been working with manufacturers on reshoring efforts through a pilot program now in the development phase, which has provided valuable data on potential opportunities.
“This is an excellent example of how several organizations work together to improve the manufacturing ecosystem in Rhode Island,” Polaris’ Mahoney said. “When the pandemic shut down several supply chains from overseas, the importance of a domestic supply chain became even more relevant and important. Companies have not seen this type of disruption before. They needed to react quickly. Buying locally has always been critical to keep jobs in Rhode Island [and the nation].
“The pandemic has made everyone more aware of the importance of a local supply,” she said.’