Manufacturers group celebrates a golden existence

Rick Shrum

The manufacturing landscape of Washington County has changed. So has the organization representing it.

Steel, glass and other heavy industries no longer reign, making for a more diverse membership in the Washington County Manufacturers Association.

“It’s more of a 50-50 mix,” said Larry Butka, president of the WCMA. “Businesses have changed and evolved in a lot of areas. There are more (informational technology) companies, a lot of banks, insurance companies, printing companies and promotional companies.”

Manufacturers remain a significant part of the equation, though, which is especially important this weekend. This golden weekend.

WCMA will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Monday, marking a half-century of operations. The association launched July 11, 1972, when its board of trustees met for the first time to elect officers, at a get-together at Hankison Corp.

The organization says on its Facebook page it “is dedicated to communicating and implementing ideas and projects designed to enhance the industrial climate of Washington County and its adjoining areas.”

Group leaders, all volunteers, organize events for members, including walking tours of manufacturing facilities; presentations; roundtable discussions, social outings and learning sessions. WCMA also provides scholarships to students interested in building trades.

“The thing that draws people together is tours,” Butka said of the popular walkabouts. “We get about 50 people.

“We had a great tour last month at the (Pennsylvania) Trolley Museum. From a manufacturing perspective, we saw different manufacturing aspects: workers working in steel, electronics and hydraulics.”

Delving into the organization’s archives, Butka found that 37 manufacturing firms originally signed on, a membership list that grew to 65 during the 25th anniversary year of 1997. Today, with an expansive range of occupations represented, Butka estimates that membership “is hovering around 150 to 175 members.”

He said very few charter members, or surviving remnants of same, are still in WCMA. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the annual membership fee of $50, which was established at the start, one week before the Watergate break-in.

Change within the manufacturers group seemed to be inevitable at least three decades ago. Ron Davis, Butka’s predecessor as president, said before retiring last year that: “In the 1980s, there was a shift from glass and steel industries in Washington and machine shops. We had to adjust a little in the ‘90s because of industry changes, and expanded to include more companies that support manufacturers. Banks, software companies and others joined.

“We really opened up our membership to keep us viable.”

Butka, a WCMA director before ascending to the presidency, is a territory manager for Olympic Steel, based in Bedford Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He is responsible for much of the western half of Pennsylvania and some venues in contiguous states, so he travels a lot. But he is a local guy, a Chartiers-Houston graduate now residing near Hollywood Casino at the Meadows.

He envisions another shift in the association’s operations, one that could foster sensible growth in Washington County and elsewhere across the region.

“We do not have to be only a county-only organization,” Butka said. “One thing we’re looking at is expanding beyond Washington County because of development at the cracker plant in Beaver County and Starpointe (Business Park),” which is in northern-most Washington County, near the Beaver line.

“We can become more of a tri-state organization with roots in Washington County.”

Butka said the county is “blessed to have bigger (manufacturing) companies that are growing,” citing specifically Pennsylvania Transformer, Perryman Co., Precision Marshall and the marina in Brownsville.

He added that WCMA would warmly welcome new members. “Anyone interested in joining should go to the website,” “We’re always looking for companies to open their doors to us.”

Call it a golden opportunity.