Joel Wood, the Director of NAmTrans, tells FuzeHub’s Steve Melito how the organization got started, where it’s headed, and how this strategic subsidiary of the North Country Chamber of Commerce is supporting one the world’s most diverse and innovative transportation clusters.
Steve Melito: Hey. Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. My name is Steve Melito and I’m your host, and today we are here with Joel Wood from NAmTrans. Joel, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.
Joel Wood: Thank you, Steve, and thank you for having me on the podcast. I’m excited to be here.
Steve Melito: Hey, it’s great to have you here. Listen, what’s the NAmTrans story? How did it all get started?
Joel Wood: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question, and thank you for asking. Let’s start by breaking down the acronym first. We’re known as NAmTrans, but what that stands for is the North American Center of Excellence for Transportation Equipment. Don’t try to line up the letters with the acronym. It probably won’t work out for you. But really, what it boils down to is North American, NAm, Transportation, Trans. And really, we’re a subsidiary of the North Country Chamber of Commerce located in Glasford, New York. I’m also a Chamber employee, first and foremost, but I’m the director of the subsidiary, NAmTrans and what the organization is, we’re a support system for our transportation equipment and aerospace cluster in upstate New York. Seven most northern counties. Pretty much from Albany up, from Plattsburgh on the east to Watertown on the west. The story of how we got started is pretty interesting. We were formed in 2015, so we’re still a relatively young organization. There’s an organization in Plattsburgh called TDC. They were formerly known as The Development Corporation. And what they do is they manage a number of different industrial parks in Plattsburgh. They wanted to know, working with the Chamber and private industry, if there was a critical mass of a specific industry in the North Country that would warrant having a support organization, like NAmTrans, that would be dedicated just to that industry or subsector of manufacturing, for example. So, they went out and they did a study, and the study came back, and at the time of the study it said that there was 34 or 35 transportation equipment and aerospace companies in Upstate New York. They got to work, working with our Canadian friends to the north, who really formed this model, right? This model of having a cluster support organization, they were already well deep in it by this point. They had the experience. They knew what they were doing, so we worked with them, our friends at the Quebec Ground Transportation Cluster, or The Pole, to start NAmTrans. So, we formed an agreement with The Pole in 2015, and then we were formed, and we’ve been growing ever since.
Steve Melito: The acronym really is the name. That was quite a mouthful, the full name of the organization, so NAmTrans is what people need to recall and keep in mind.
Joel Wood: NAmTrans. Exactly.
Steve Melito: So, Joel, there’s an old saying that geography is destiny. Why is your location important and what’s unique about your relationship with Montreal and Quebec?
Joel Wood: I like that saying because it holds true here and I have a couple more sayings that I’m going to throw out when I answer this question. For those who don’t know, Plattsburgh, the city, the town of Plattsburgh, we’re one hour south of Montreal proper. It’s a quick trip up. Typically, when we’re not in the era of COVID, there’s a lot of travel, a lot of tourism between Montreal and Plattsburgh. A lot of families from Montreal have very fond memories of coming to Plattsburgh, to the city beach, eating ice cream, and we’re affectionately known as, and this is a result of the hard work of Gary Douglas at the North Country Chamber of Commerce, and all of the economic development partners. We’re now known as, and we have for quite some time, as Montreal’s U. S. suburb, which is something that we say often and we refer to ourselves, but they do as well. They’ve taken on that phrasing and they know us as such. Because of the proximity and because of the leadership and the vision that the Chamber had, our area really became and still is today, even more so, a great area and opportunity for Canadian- based companies to enter the U. S. marketplace for the first time. Entering the U. S. marketplace can be incredibly overwhelming, scary, frightening for a lot of international companies, even Canadian- based companies, so the Chamber put together a number of different resources and programs to help them figure out how to enter the U. S. marketplace. And of course, we would love for them to be here in Plattsburgh, in the greater Plattsburgh region. And that’s exactly what happened. We formed relationships, and when I say we, again, it’s the Chamber, and Gary, and the leaders who came before me, formed relationships with the Canadian government, connected them with the New York state government, our federal representatives, made them understand how important the connection is between what is truly a binational- You know, it’s a relationship that goes beyond just trade. And what happened is you started to see all of these Canadian companies in the world of transportation equipment, Bombardier being one of the first. After the closer of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, came to Plattsburgh in 1995. I apologize. Came to Plattsburgh in 1995, and what they did is they opened a facility here, and then with each large Canadian manufacturer that came here, all of the suppliers followed, right? With Bombardier at the time, you had a bunch of rail suppliers, and then when the Volvo Group, when Nova Bus came here, the same thing, a bunch of suppliers. Primarily the companies that we serve, and work with, and who are a part of the NAmTrans cluster are Canadian- based manufacturers, and we love the relationship that we have with them. We work hand in hand and it’s been great for both countries, I’d say.
Steve Melito: You’ve got a good, strong history across two countries. Who should join NAmTrans today? And I guess another way to say this is what’s in it for them? Why would you want to join NAmTrans?
Joel Wood: Oh, this is the sales pitch. I love it. I always start off by saying to join NAmTrans, we don’t have a membership fee. We are a membership organization in a way, but as a subsidiary of the Chamber, to be a NAmTrans cluster company, as we refer to them, you would just need to be a member of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. And if you are producing in some way, shape, or form transportation equipment or aerospace components, you also get the added benefit of all of the resources that NAmTrans brings to the table. And what we are is we’re a one- stop shop, I like to refer to it as, so we may not always have the resource that you need, or the funding ourselves, but we have the partners and the relationships. Just like how we built this great partnership and relationship with FuzeHub, we have it with other local resources, as well, and we can point the companies in the right direction. One of the things that I always say, I kind of break it down into five different groups. Company promotion and awareness, so the companies, our NAmTrans Cluster companies are featured on our website. They get space in our newsletter, NAmTrans News. Social media promotion, as well, so that’s great for them. Employee recruitment and retention, so we attend job fairs and career fairs on their behalf, advertise their open opportunities, we post them on our website, and then we also just wrapped up not too long ago a digital media workforce recruitment ad campaign, which was very popular. Employee training, so we offer soft skills training for a lot of our cluster companies free of charge. Leadership, things like that. And then we also work with our local MEP, Cytech, a great partner to us, to offer some of those more hands- on hard skill training. Lean training, Six Sigma, stuff like that. And identify funding so the companies can obtain the training for their employees. Supply chain development, we were just talking about that, Steve, before we hopped on the podcast. We connect companies who may need another local company. Maybe they have a vendor gap or a supply chain gap. We’ll try to fix that for them. And then networking and events, so we offer events periodically to our companies, so they can network and do some B2B activities.
Steve Melito: Who are some of the big name companies that are part of NAmTrans? And I guess how many companies do you serve overall?
Joel Wood: We have some internationally recognized companies that are here in the North Country and are part of the NAmTrans cluster, and I’ve mentioned some of them already. Some of our largest, Alstom. Alstom is in effect a new cluster company with their purchase of Bombardier Transportation, but they have taken over the Bombardier facility here in Plattsburgh. We’re really excited to start working with them and we’re excited for the future there. The Volvo Group, we have Nova Bus and Prevost. They are kind of leading the way in the electrification of transportation with electric buses. We’re excited about the future there. Just yesterday it was announced that they received their first electric bus order in the U. S., which was great news, in Milwaukee. We’re really excited for them. Vapor Stone Rail Systems, a Wabtec company. They’re a big name. Norsk Titanium. New York Air Brake out in Watertown. And so many more. I don’t want to say that those are the biggest are most important because they are all integral to what happens here and the production of the ultimate train, plane, bus, automobile, but those are the names that I think are most recognizable. And we have over 55 companies now, and I’m excited to say that even during the pandemic that list has grown. We’ve actually had a new transportation equipment company come to the Plattsburgh region. They’re a TDC tenant. They’re called Khrome. They set up shop back in October of last year. Despite all of the challenges with the pandemic, they still came down. They joined the Chamber. They joined the cluster. They’re a TDC tenant and they’re a great company. And then we’re bringing three new companies into the cluster hopefully you’ll probably see the announcement next week. And these are companies that have either been here for a little while and have seen the benefits of NAmTrans and now they want to be a part of the organization, or they may have recently gotten into the world of transportation equipment manufacturing. Maybe they diversified, saw the benefits of producing those goods and components.
Steve Melito: Joel, tell us about some of the current initiatives that NAmTrans has underway. One of them I know is an event that NAmTrans and FuzeHub has got on tap for April.
Joel Wood: Yeah, so let’s start there, because that’s really exciting, and Steve, I want to thank you again, because I remember when we first reached out, I first reached out and spoke with you about hosting an event like this, and within a week you were like, ” Let’s do it. Let’s go.” We got the group together and I think it’s going to be a great event. We have a virtual manufacturing solutions forum called How the North Country Keeps the World Moving. It’s on April 14th from 9: 00 to noon. We have a great lineup. We have a keynote speaker who I think is really exciting. His name is Elliot Lee Sander. He’s the senior vice president of Alstom Americas. He’s been to the North Country before. This is not his first event that he’s done with us. But it is his first event in his new role with Alstom. He’s a great friend to the North Country and I think he’s going to use this as an opportunity to reinforce Alstom’s commitment to our region, commitment to the facility that we have here, and speak to some of the suppliers who might be in attendance about what the future holds, so we’re excited about that. We also have a panel of local manufacturing leaders who are going to talk about some best practices and their experience, so that’ll be exciting, and there’ll be an opportunity to speak with those companies after the panel’s over, so that’s exciting, as well. We’re going to have a lot of New York state- based resources there, and that’s a testament to the work that FuzeHub has done. They’ve put together a great list, 30- plus resources from across New York state that manufacturers can access, and speak with, and get the help that they need. And the event is free thanks to our sponsors, so we have some great sponsors for the event. TDC, I mentioned. Twinstate Technologies. CAMP, the Center for Advanced Materials Processing at Clarkson, and the Workforce Development Institute, so thanks to our sponsors. And you can register on FuzeHub.com, so go check it out, and hopefully we’ll see you there.
Steve Melito: That is fantastic, Joel, and yeah, to keep with the transportation theme, we are pulling out all the stops on this as you mentioned. Over 30 resources from across New York state. We’ve got lots of companies that have already registered. A lot of interest. It’s a great opportunity to hear some really important insights and then also to have that important networking time and the time to speak to resources that can help companies solve business and technical challenges. That’s what we do at these manufacturing events that we do. Joel, anything else in store for NAmTrans? I remember there was a big meeting June and that’s probably on hold for this year because of the pandemic.
Joel Wood: In May of 2019, and Steve, I know you attended, we held our first ever Quebec- New York Transportation Rendezvous and B2B event. We had hoped to hold it in the spring of this year. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions, we really want the event to be an in- person event if possible. If that’s not possible, we’ll take a look at it, but what we’ve done is we’ve temporarily postponed that. We’re looking at the fall of this year. We’re going to try to select a date, start doing some early planning. We’re in that process now, so hopefully you’ll hear more soon, but again, we want it to be a safe event for our attendees and we’ll only move forward if we know we can do it safely. Some other initiatives that we’re doing, we’re always trying to help our companies get the word out about what amazing career opportunities are there. And plus, we’re always trying to help the general public understand why these companies are so important to our area, right? I had a conversation with a plant manager of one of our cluster companies not so long ago and he said he was driving down the road with his son in the back seat, his young son in the back seat, and his son pointed at one of his suppliers, right? So, he pointed at a facility and he said, ” Dad, what do they do there?” And the plant manager said, ” I felt like I failed as a parent because I talk to that company every single day.” And he goes, ” And the fact that my son doesn’t know what they do, that’s an issue.” To help solve that, we’re doing a new video series we’re filming on March 24th, called On The Job With Joel. It’s going to be a fun behind- the- scenes look at what happens at some of our cluster companies, talking about what opportunities are available there if you’re looking to work in this field, but what products are they making and how do they ultimately go into the end product of a bus, a train, or a plane? And our first series is going to focus on how a bus is made in the North Country, so we’ve got Nova Bus lined up along with a couple of their local suppliers, and it should be a great video series, so we’re really excited about that.
Steve Melito: That is really good. Joel, I think that Mike Rowe is going to have a run for his money. You’re going to be on a job, right?
Joel Wood: On the job. Hopefully I don’t get as dirty as Mike. I don’t know.
Steve Melito: Joel Wood from NAmTrans, thank you for being on New York State Manufacturing Now.
Joel Wood: Absolutely. Thank you for having me again, Steve. It was a pleasure.
Steve Melito: You’re most welcome. Again, before we wrap up here today, if you would like to know more about NAmTrans, if you would like to be part of the event on April 14th, now is the time to act. The clock is ticking, so go to FuzeHub. com, look at the calendar. You’ll find some information about the event and from there you can register. And if you can’t make it to the event, really anytime, wherever you are in New York state, if you have a business or technical need and need help, FuzeHub is available. Just got to www. fuzehub. com. Go to the solutions program menu. You can submit what we call a virtual request for assistance and a member of the manufacturing solutions program will get in touch with you and talk about what you’re looking for and how New York state assets can help. So, without further ado, I’m going to wrap this one up and say on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, I’m your host, Steve Melito, signing off.