12/8/11 - Article on Opening of SEWN's SE Office

Group Wants To Save Jobs in Bucks
Posted:  December 8, 2011

Local manufacturers that are struggling to pay their bills and stay in business may be able to find help at a new, free service being offered in the Greater Philadelphia region.

SEWN — the Strategic Early Warning Network — announced Wednesday that it has opened an office in Bristol Township to help save manufacturing jobs in the five-county region. Founded 20 years ago by the Steel Valley Authority in Pittsburgh, SEWN said it has already saved more than 18,000 jobs in other parts of the state.

“The days of being easily able to attract new companies are gone,” said Tom Croft, executive director of the Steel Valley Authority and the founder of SEWN. “We began realizing long ago that we had to prioritize indigenous job growth and indigenous job retention.”

In addition to Pittsburgh, SEWN has offices in Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre. Its Philadelphia-area office opened in Bristol Township two months ago, in the same space as the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board. Together, the four offices serve all counties in Pennsylvania.

Last year, SEWN helped 72 manufacturing companies in 30 counties and saved more than 1,000 jobs, officials said.

SEWN’s typical client is a small or medium-sized manufacturing company with between 20 and 200 employees that has run out of cash and is in danger of laying off employees or closing its doors. SEWN sends in consultants who help craft a recovery plan — which typically involves finding new money sources — and then helps stabilize, restructure and turn the company around, said Greg Olson, director of Southeast SEWN.

“We’re there to help them turn this thing around,” Olson said. “People’s livelihoods are at risk.”

Already, SEWN has helped seven Philadelphia area companies, including countertop manufacturer MacLaren Fabrication in West Chester, Philadelphia-based William J. Labb Sons and A.V. Weber, a North Wales company that manufactures precision springs, wire forms and stampings.

Bob Hayes, chief financial officer of ASK Plastics in Philadelphia, said the company has been struggling with the loss of business due to the economy and with integrating a new acquisition.

“We’re cash poor,” Hayes said.

SEWN has come up with ideas to help increase cash flow, Hayes said. Among those ideas are moving the company to Bucks County, which would improve operations, allow it to upgrade equipment and even possibly hire new employees.

SEWN’s services are free to businesses. The group is funded by the state through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Liz Walsh, executive director of the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board, said job agencies most often see people once they’ve already lost their jobs. Working with SEWN will help retain jobs.

“We want to keep those who are employed, employed,” Walsh said. “We don’t just want to see them at our door.”