Report from America, v.3: Erie, Pennsylvania

By June 23, 2005Report from America

report.jpg Tuesday night found us in that great manufacturing city, Erie, Pennsylvania, for the centennial of the Manufacturers Association of Northwest Pennsylvania (MANP). It was a total manufacturing extravaganza, there’s no doubt about it. If you knew their President, Ralph Pontillo, you’d understand. Ralph doesn’t really think small about anything. In a city without a dominant large employer (just a bunch of small and medium ones) Ralph has about 7,000 members, owns his own building, puts on an annual banquet. Past speakers have included

Rudy Giuliani and former President George H. Bush. Like we said, Ralph doesn’t think small.

So when it came time for his centennial, Ralph decided to go big. The event was held in the cozy confines of the Erie Civic Arena. It was filled to its 5,000-seat capacity. The opening act was humorist Mark Russell, who warmed up the crowd, if being a little too much to the left of his manufacturing audience. No matter, he was followed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who gave a great and rousing speech about leadership and the role of the US around the world.

When Powell was done, the emcee thanked him, expecting him to exit the stage. But Powell would have none of it. “I’m not leaving”, he said, “I want to see ‘the Hog’!”

With that, the lights dimmed and all you could hear was the roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But this was no typical Harley. This one had been specially made, with lots of special features, lots of bells and whistles. It is a “Manufacturing Tribute” bike and it will make the rounds to every high school in northwest Pennsylvania, to make the point to high schoolers that manufacturing is exciting and that manufacturing is cool. Along with the custom paint job and the MANP logo tail light, on the tail pipe is the simple legend, “Manufacturing Makes America Strong”.

OK, so where were we…?

There we are in the arena and the lights go down and there is this deafening roar of the Harley Softail engine and out comes Captain America himself, Peter Fonda! He eventually rolls it off the stage (after a lot of pyrotechnics) and leads some 3500 bikes down State Street (the main drag in Erie). From our lead bus, you could see people five and ten deep along the sidewalks, entire families, at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night, out to celebrate manufacturing. At the end of the ride was a fantastic show by MANP member — and first family of pyrotechnics — Zambelli Fireworks. Here’s a link to a local news article by Peter Panepento and Veronica Gorley of the Erie Times-News on the whole night under the title, “A Night for Joining Together”.

It was a great night for Erie, a great night for the Manufacturing Association of Northwest Pennsylvania and a great night for manufacturing. You can be good for 20 years, can maybe be above average for 30, but you really need to excel to make it a hundred years. Not many organizations or institutions do, because the competition keeps getting tougher, seems to keep up, keeps raising the bar.

Congratulations to Ralph Pontillo and the MANP for a century of excellence.