Penn College Students Survey Manufacturers' Use of Technology

Published 03.27.2008

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From left, Dennis R. Williams, associate professor of business administration%2Fmanagement, and Pennsylvania College of Technology students Joseph R. Raup, Melissa A. Miller and Mahdi E. Shaji present the results of their industrial technology survey.A group of Pennsylvania College of Technology students recently surveyed area manufacturers about their use of technology, coming away with a heightened appreciation of the region's industrial assets and the challenges that face those doing business in Central Pennsylvania.

Three of them Melissa A. Miller, a technology management major from Montoursville; Joseph R. Raup, of Trout Run, enrolled in business administration: small business and entrepreneurship; and Mahdi E. Shaji, of Turnersville, N.J. , also majoring in technology management presented their findings Wednesday morning during a "Regional Technology Snapshot" event at Lycoming College.

They were joined by Dennis R. Williams, associate professor of business administration/management and their adviser in the college's Students in Free Enterprise chapter. A fourth member of the survey team, Aurora M. LeBlanc, a business management major from Williamsport, was unable to attend.

The students, along with co-presenters from Lycoming College, received mini-grants through the SEDA-Council of Governments to help get a pulse on regional technology.

Penn College students interviewed five small- to medium-sized manufacturers in the region, while the Lycoming students (supervised by economics professor Mehrdad Madresehee) researched the state of technological industry in the area and the job prospects for technology graduates. Both presented their findings at Lycoming's Wertz Student Center at a Technology Futures Forum sponsored by the Williamsport/Lycoming Keystone Innovation Zone.

The Penn College students asked the industry leaders about their current technology use (and concerns), the resources they employ when problems arise, their unmet technological needs and the tools they expect to need in the future.

While the students found that the surveyed industries have a consistent appetite for technologically trained employees, a hampering lack of access tohigh-speed Internet in their rural setting and a tendency to consider only their short-term needs, they were impressed by the commercial heavyweights in their own back yards.

Miller, a nontraditional student and former business owner, said she was struck with a sense of "Wow! We have 'stuff' here!" There are things here that the global market can use." She characterized the businesses as "healthy," a situation that should only improve given keener awareness of what resources are available to area manufacturers and coordination among the entities that provide them.

"It really opened my eyes," added Raup, the SIFE chapter's chief executive officer and a transplant from the sprawling business environment of Los Angeles. "I thought this was just a farming community with a few grocery stores and couple of colleges. These industries are conducting business on an international scale; it makes you feel proud that it's happening right here."

Using technology to innovatively boost a business' marketing and sales efforts would help replicate those eye-opening moments for the public, as well, Williams said. "These industries do what they do in their areas of business, and they do it very well. A lot of people just don't know these companies exist."

Many of thecompanies contacted by Lycoming College students said they chose the area because of the experienced labor force, the centralized location and the scenic beauty. By sanctioning the surveys, SEDA-COGhopes to raise students' awareness of those same factors, convincing them toremain after graduation in a reverse of the "Brain Drain" phenomenon that sends many of them to metropolitan markets.

Williams said he is seeing a positive change among students in his classes: About half of them now talk about staying in the area once they earn their degrees, down from the 80 percent who once planned toseek jobs elsewhere.