New attitude in manufacturing industry is bringing jobs back home
By: Michael Hallisey
Local businesses network with one another in a continuous trend promoting community over competition, and that attitude is what’s defining a new “paradigm” in a changing manufacturing industry.
New York state is home to a rich network of innovation assets and other resources that can help manufacturers and start-up companies develop or improve products and their manufacturing capabilities; but cost can be a barrier to companies utilizing those resources.
“One of our goals here at the Center of Gravity is to lower the barrier of entry for entrepreneurs who are creating hardware based start-ups that might leap up to a manufacturing component,” said Thomas Tongue, executive director of Tech Valley Center of Gravity (COG).”
Last month, COG was awarded a $75,000 grant to launch its Rapid Prototyping Center within the grounds of its Third Street location in Troy. The “makerspace” is expanding its services to support manufacturers and start-ups by allowing more access to equipment to build prototypes. No such center exists in the Capital District for both entrepreneurs and manufacturers alike to work on prototypes.
“They had already had their own companies that were signed on to work with them to get it started,” said Amber Mooney, FuzeHub industry engagement manager. FuzeHub is a not-for-profit organization that plays matchmaker for state manufacturing companies and local tech and business resources. “Part of the grant’s [requirements] was to show their business partnerships. We hadn’t brought any to them, but in the future we may be bringing some as part of what we do. If a manufacturer comes to us with a great idea and is looking to prototype, we connect them with resources across the state.”“
Already, five companies have committed to use the RPC in the first year. One Hudson, Shandor Engineering, Beckmann Engineering, Self Array, and Axiom North America, LLC will all use the RPC when it is complete. Tongue said he anticipates as many as 20 companies a year will seek access to the Center’s equipment.
“The Rapid Prototyping Center is going to be a tremendous resource for our region, for manufacturers — current manufacturers, as well as start-ups,” said Mooney.
Arsenal Business & Technology Partnership, an entity housed out of the Watervliet Arsenal, was also awarded a $75,000 grant through FuzeHub. It’s project will expand its manufacturing capacity and capability for Extreme Molding, a contract manufacturer, that has had exponential growth inside the Watervliet Arsenal since 2002. Extreme Molding manufactures use silicone and plastic materials often in unique combinations. It does full packaging and order fulfillment for 85 percent of its customers, whose markets primarily serve infants, toddlers, pet care and high end consumer products.
“Fuzehub’s mission is supporting manufacturing organizations by matching — we have a team of engineers — matching manufacturers to resources,” said Mooney.
FuzeHub launched the Jeff Lawrence Manufacturing Innovation Fund.
Lawrence was a top executive at the Center for Economic Growth who passed away in 2015. He was a champion for local manufacturing and entrepreneurial communities.
The Manufacturing Innovation Fund consists of $1 million annually for five years. It supports activities designed to spur technology development and commercialization exclusively in New York state. FuzeHub administers the fund as part of its role as the Empire State Development (ESD) designated statewide Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center.
“We have an extensive network of organizations that work closely with the industry to ensure that New York state’s companies remain as competitive as possible. The Manufacturing Innovation Fund will allow even more companies to take advantage of these critical services and receive world class technical expertise,” said Matt Watson, director of Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology & Innovation.
Through the fund, FuzeHub offers Manufacturing Innovation Grants on a quarterly basis. The grants are available to non-profit organizations and higher education institutions which propose projects to be undertaken with small and mid-sized manufacturers or early stage companies. Projects can include prototype development, proof-of-concept manufacturing, certain equipment purchases, manufacturing scale-up, market identification and other projects to advance manufacturing capabilities.
“Too often, companies fail to overcome start-up hurdles or sustain their competitiveness because they lack the resources to engage partners that can help them with technological and innovation challenges,” said Richard E. Honen, chair of the selection panel for the grants and a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP. “FuzeHub’s grant program is a welcome new resource that will make that engagement more affordable.”
The size of the grants range from $25,000 to $75,000 each, and are intended to offset costs and help more small and mid-sized manufacturers succeed in New York state.
Manufacturing is just one example of an industry placing added emphasis on a community mind-set. During last year’s general election, one popular topic among candidates was a shared concern to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
“The nature of manufacturing is changing,” said Tongue. “It’s going away from large plants that have low cost labor… it’s moving into a high-technology manufacturing context where automation is doing those repetitive jobs and what you have is a skilled, trained workforce that is actually working with a diverse set of machines to make sure the process is in tolerance. … This is one of the things that’s actually a bit challenging about this new manufacturing paradigm. You can talk to some manufacturers who have a challenge finding the talent that they need in order to fill those jobs.”
In the past 35 years, manufacturing jobs decreased 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. In that Pew Research report, there was a larger concern for continued education throughout the workforce.
The importance of networking in today’s economy is embodied by FuzeHub’s grant program and makerplaces like Troy’s COG. In addition to being a communal workspace that promotes “creative collisions” among professionals with different backgrounds, COG serves as a learning center. Today, more professionals recognize the need to continue their education. It speaks of a cognizant deficiency in skills and knowledge base in the workforce, and confirms the need for places where professionals can network on ideas. It also speaks of how advanced technology is integrating the workforce more as the years go on.
“The Tech Valley Center Of Gravity does have a workforce development role in that we help people learn new skills and create opportunities for further growth,” said Tongue. “Some of these are more ad-hoc, like the classes offered on game development and tool use, while other programs set up through partners like Albany Can Code are focused on specific career path development. … it’s a great program!”