- June 10, 2020
The spotlight is on manufacturing, with companies across the nation and throughout the region making essential items for the pandemic, from face shields to hand sanitizer.
That's led some manufacturers to add employees. Others, without being able to shift for various reasons, have laid off and/or furloughed employees. But for nearly all manufacturers across the region, the pandemic has brought with it a host of questions — and manufacturing associations have provided answers and resources to help. Manufacturing associations have had to alter their operations during the pandemic, too, including the Sarasota-Manatee Manufacturers Association and the Bay Area Manufacturers Association in Tampa. SAMA and BAMA are two of 14 regional manufacturers associations in Florida.
‘Other industries have slowed down. We have just completely ramped up.’ — Beth Galic, Bay Area Manufacturers Association
SAMA Executive Director Rob Harris says SAMA recently changed its monthly meeting format to focus on manufacturing plant tours and business networking events. “We did that for two months and then quickly got derailed,” he says. After the cancelation of its March plant tour, SAMA shifted gears.
During the pandemic, SAMA’s main goal has been to push vital information out to members through emails, webinars and other methods. Earlier in the pandemic, CARES Act and PPP information was crucial for members. Now webinars on other topics, like a recent one on “Business Continuity & Growth Despite Hurricanes, COVID-19 or Other Issues,” have been popular. SAMA has also responded to requests from members seeking information about specific topics, such as what businesses could do during the shutdown to ensure survival and best practices for reopening.
The organization has shared its own content as well as content from other organizations, including regional manufacturers groups, EDCs, chambers of commerce and FloridaMakes. “To a point, there’s no purpose in reinventing the wheel,” says Harris, who is also director of supply chain and IT for Sarasota-based Teakdecking Systems. “If some other organizations are doing good job highlighting programs or webinars, we’ve all been working as a team to share as much info as possible.”
For manufacturers seeking employees to keep up with demand, SAMA created a new job board. And its workforce development committee is accelerating efforts to work with schools to build a pool of skilled labor.
Like SAMA, the Bay Area Manufacturers Association quickly shifted to offer additional online resources when the pandemic hit. “Within the first week of the lockdown, we had three webinars set up with topics from various experts,” says BAMA Executive Director Beth Galic.
BAMA, which serves Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, has sent out weekly email newsletters with resources and held virtual roundtables giving manufacturers the chance to get together and talk about how COVID-19 is affecting their businesses. BAMA also organizes an online job board. Galic says it’s important for workers in other fields to know about opportunities in the industry, especially now. “If you’re not working in a hospitality job, there are a lot of great jobs in manufacturing,” she says.
Members have sought out BAMA resources about specific topics, including building disinfection management, transitioning to a virtual workforce, bringing business from China back to the U.S. and grant opportunities available for training employees.
BAMA has also worked to connect manufacturers that need equipment or materials to make essential pandemic supplies with companies that could help. “A lot of manufacturers were transitioning and calling us asking for these added resources to facilitate that change over,” says Galic. BAMA has also fielded calls from a national level about sources of vital items. “Federal officials had been calling us and saying, ‘Who can do what?’” she says. “We have been acting as a referral service as well.”
Members have shown their appreciation for the breadth of resources BAMA has provided through their attendance at recent events. “We may have had 20 to 30 people attending live events,” says Galic. “Now it’s up to 90, 100 or 120 people attending virtual meetings and webinars.”
SAMA has experienced something similar, with attendance rising at virtual board and committee meetings. “Once we can get back out there, plant tours and in-person networking will continue,” says Harris. “Routine meetings will probably continue virtually.”
SAMA and BAMA are looking ahead to Manufacturing Month in October, an initiative designed to change the perception of manufacturing careers among middle and high school students. Instead of in-person manufacturing facility tours, this year Manufacturing Month will shift to virtual tours and Q&A sessions.
Despite the pandemic, both organizations are seizing the moment to encourage the next generation of manufacturers who will soon be needed. “Other industries have slowed down,” says Galic. “We have just completely ramped up.”