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While attending the recent West Penn SMTA Expo, I spoke with Eileen Hibbler, a chapter support specialist at SMTA, and Jason Emes, the current president of the West Penn SMTA Chapter. Despite having an active membership, the local chapter has seen some officer turnover due to job changes and Eileen and Jason were anxious to discuss ways to improve meeting attendance and develop a new slate of chapter officers.
Patty Goldman: Eileen, let’s start with your role at SMTA.
Eileen Hibbler: My role at SMTA is a chapter support specialist. I work with the chapters that need some help with growing a leadership team or an expo event. I have been active with the SMTA organization since 2001, serving in several leadership roles, including three years on the National SMTA Board of Directors. I have been in the electronics industry since the ‘80s working for several companies, and I’m currently with EAP based in Florida.
Patty Goldman: Jason, can you tell me about your role in the chapter?
Jason Emes: Hello, Patty. I am currently the president of the West Penn SMTA chapter. I was recruited in 2015 at SMTA International by Eileen and Karen Frericks, director of chapter relations at SMTA, at a recruitment luncheon. I felt strongly about what SMTA was about and wanted to get involved. My role at Pennatronics allowed me to support as much as needed since it is a corporate member of the SMTA West Penn Chapter. I came into the chapter as vice president until 2017 when Bill Capen was elected to SMTA Board of Directors. Then, I stepped up to the role of president where I have been serving ever since.
In April 2018, I changed industries out of electronics manufacturing. But I wanted to maintain my role in the chapter as I still felt strongly about what SMTA means to the electronics industry. However, my new role does not allow me to focus as much on the chapter since the company is not involved in electronics manufacturing, which makes it a challenge to be as actively involved as I would like. My new employer is fully supportive; I’m just no longer in the day-to-day electronics manufacturing environment.
Goldman: We were talking before about membership and encouraging people to attend meetings. Eileen, can you tell us more about that?
Hibbler: We have a strong membership, and it’s growing. The challenge is convincing people to attend and participate in technical meetings or expos like this in addition to membership. So, I’m in full recruitment mode. We’re looking for good ideas and are open to suggestions.
Emes: The challenge in our region right now is that people and companies are too busy. They can’t leave the office, there are too many projects going on, and there’s a general lack of resources, which causes strain. When we’ve had meetings recently, attendance has been lower. Unemployment is at an all-time low, which makes hiring additional resources a challenge for companies; in turn, this may strain current resources.
Goldman: This expo is during the day, of course, but are your regular meetings usually in the evening?
Emes: No, they’re usually during the day. So, one idea would be to have an evening or a weekend meeting. Our membership is very strong, so a webinar-based meeting where people could just log in from their offices might work too.
Goldman: Would you try a webinar during the day or in the evening after work? I can see where an evening meeting would make sense if it weren’t too late so that people don’t have to give up their entire night.
Hibbler: Yes, 4:00–6:00 p.m. is a doable timeframe for a regular meeting. A number of the chapters have quarterly dinner meetings with a speaker. I don’t think we’ve ever done that here, but it might be worth a try.
Goldman: My guess is that you need a location for that dinner meeting. One of the best places for that is at a company; we were talking before about how factory tours are almost better than brewery tours. People are more interested in seeing a manufacturing floor.
Emes: People love manufacturing tours, but it’s a challenge to find companies that are willing and have the time to host an event. And we have to be sensitive to companies that have proprietary technology and customer bases, which is a big challenge with contract manufacturers.
Goldman: Perhaps they would have more time in the evening than during the day. At least you wouldn’t be interrupting operations quite as much.
Hibbler: Some companies may have restrictions where they can’t open their floor because of proprietary information. If they’re doing government work, there’s some secrecy involved and they can’t open it to non-citizens, so those are some of the challenges to having a company host a meeting. But we could look into possibly finding a quiet restaurant with a private room where we could have a modest dinner and a speaker. I know several chapters do that regularly. Then, we can see if we increase turnout in the evenings.
Goldman: How many people normally come to your regular meetings?
Emes: It fluctuates, so sometimes six people attend, and other times, there could be 40. It’s very different. But the highest attendance has been where companies gave a factory tour.
Hibbler: They’re a good draw.