How Manufacturing Day will be different (and maybe better) this year

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program’s John Kennedy admits he was a little bit skeptical of using a virtual format for Manufacturing Day, his organization’s annual salute to products that are made in New Jersey and the manufacturers who produce them.

“We’ve all been on Zoom calls — and I think we’re all tired of Zoom calls,” Kennedy said. “I feel like we’ve found something better.”

So, when the NJMEP holds its annual event Oct. 2, Kennedy said it will be more than just a “Zoom call on steroids.”

The production, which will be handled by Clarity Experiences, will have a keynote address available to all at no cost, then numerous breakout sessions — repeated over three time slots — that those who register are able to participate in.

Going virtual will allow for more speakers — and more participants, Kennedy said. And he feels Clarity will deliver a rich experience.

“We did a lot of research, because we wanted to find a company that’s been doing this for a while, not one who just jumped into it during the pandemic,” he said. “We found one where we can have a real-life program virtually, one where we can have breakout sessions of high participation, one where we can create individual meetings between companies and consultants or companies and banks. It gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility.

“I doubted it until till they showed me the demo, and then I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ It’s tremendous.”

Kennedy credits Peter Okun, the NJMEP director of marketing, along with Mike Womack and Debbie Fitzgerald, for putting it together.

And, while Kennedy said he understands people may be skeptical about what can be presented, he feels the agenda shows the depths of the discussions.

For starters, Kevin Cummings, the CEO of Investors Bank, will be a key speaker.

“He’s going to talk about how the pandemic is going to affect cash to businesses, cash to startups, cash to grow your staff,” he said. “That’s good stuff. I think there’s a lot of value in that.”

Then there are nine breakout sessions, with topics ranging from technology to cybersecurity, growing your revenue and bringing women into your operation. Here’s the complete list:

  • Advanced Manufacturing Technology: One Step at a Time;
  • Boosting Supply Chain Resiliency Now;
  • Cybersecurity for Critical Manufacturing: Managing Cyber Risks in the Age of Smart Production;
  • ERP Systems;
  • Focus on Cash Flow & Liquidity for COVID-19 Resilience;
  • How to Recover Food Industry Sales in the Post-COVID Environment;
  • Understanding Talent: Your Greatest Asset is Already in Your Organization;
  • Women in Manufacturing;
  • Workforce Strategies — Plan, Protect and Maximize.

Kennedy said holding the event virtually enabled the group to bring in more speakers. And, because there are no costs for food or space, the price of a ticket is down to $50 — two or three times less than last year.

“I don’t want to lose money, but I don’t need to make money, either,” Kennedy said.

Not only is MEP breaking even, but it is helping the Community Food Bank of New Jersey get ahead. Half of the ticket cost will be donated.

“Kids are going back to school, and they are going to be hungry,” Kennedy said. “We need to feed them.”

More than 250 have registered, which puts MEP on pace to match last year’s record total of approximately 800.

Kennedy is aiming for 1,000. But he said he feels he already has reached his biggest goal: Putting on an event worthy of the day during the era of COVID-19.

“I think we have a lot more flexibility to do different things this year,” he said. “Does it replace us all being in the same room and jumping around and he feeling that vibe? I don’t think so. But I think it’s a great second act.”

One Kennedy hopes will attract a wide variety of viewers — who can see much of it for free.

“We tried to keep it simple,” he said. “The keynotes and the welcomes are all at no cost to anybody, so that students can jump on, educators can jump on, parents whose kids may be thinking about manufacturing can jump on. That’s different than in the past, when they would have had to actually come to the event.”

And Kennedy feels the breakouts — which are intended for those in the sector — will be able to have richer content, too.

“We think we’ve found something special,” he said.