William H. “Bill” McDonald, the associate dean of academic affairs for the Business, Health, Science and Technology Division, recently spoke with NYS Manufacturing Now about Herkimer College’s mission, Cree’s new construction, previous events with FuzeHub, and the winning combination of food, technology, and manufacturing in the Mohawk Valley.
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and today we are with Bill McDonald from Herkimer College. He is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the Business Health Science and Technology Division. Bill, welcome.
Bill McDonald: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
Steve Melito: Bill, we’ve been working together for a couple of years, going back, gosh, maybe three years. Certainly before the pandemic, although the pandemic seems like it’s been about three years. How did FuzeHub and Herkimer College Connect? Do you remember the story?
Bill McDonald: Actually, I do remember it quite well. It was during the winter of 2018. I was approached by John Piseck from the Herkimer County IDA and Cory Albrecht from AIM and said, ” Hey, we have this great idea for an event. You got to get involved with this organization FuzeHub with us, and would the college be interested in hosting a B2B that brought together industry, manufacturing and agriculture, particularly the food and beverage industry?” I’m like, ” Absolutely. 100%.” We had a meeting in a conference room. We were all so excited about the fact that we were going to collaborate together with FuzeHub, we literally picked up the conference room phone and we called Everton and said, ” We’re in.” We didn’t want to even have anyone changed their mind. We said we are so in. And our first event was in June, 2018. It was just a fantastic event. We’re looking forward to future events, obviously, in person, but we’re also very excited about the virtual event we’re having because geography will not be a limiting factor. We’re looking at having our event go statewide this year and we’re extremely excited about that.
Steve Melito: Absolutely. And even though Herkimer is easy to get to, we just had John Piseck from Herkimer IDA on the podcast last time and he explained that it’s really easy to get to Herkimer. It’s just right off of I- 90. But because of the pandemic, can’t do the in person event this year. We didn’t do anything at all last year and gosh, we can’t do that two years in a row, because we had two great years together in person. Had some great speakers, a lot of companies. Bill, tell me a little bit about Herkimer College. I think it would be good for folks to know just what you do and what it’s like there.
Bill McDonald: Well, I’ve been involved, I’ve been an employee of Herkimer County Community College for over 15 years in various capacities. There’s something really special about Herkimer County Community College, I’ve worked at other places, that really can’t be quantified. It’s really like we are a family. We’re a very small college. We’re part of the SUNY system. Located right smack dab, and it’s like you said, in Central New York. If you look at Buffalo on one end and you look at Albany and the other, almost halfway right off the thruway is Herkimer County Community College. The college has celebrated its 50th anniversary. We offer over 40 different degree and certificate programs, 21 of which can be completed entirely online and over 200 courses that can be completed entirely online, and that was pre pandemic, by the way. We’ve always been leaders in online education. Over 20% of our students will earn their degree without ever stepping foot on campus. Constantly highly rated in terms of our transfer rates. Our success rates, our graduation rates are some of the best in the country. We’re very proud of that, as you can tell. I’m very proud of that. I actually had left Herkimer County Community College at one point for another opportunity, and it wasn’t long before I realized I needed to come back home and I was grateful that they took me home. But Herkimer County Community College, I really can’t do it justice about how wonderful a place it really is. And I would like to think when we do have our in- person event in the future, not only will people who’ve never been here before feel that magic, but we’ve also heard that feedback from people who’ve attended the event in the past.
Steve Melito: Absolutely. We’ve had some great events. I know the way to advertise this year’s event is probably not to say here’s all the cool stuff that you can’t do, but this has become a pretty tight- knit group of people that get together every year. We’ve had some repeat companies come and be exhibitors. There’s a lot of continuity at Herkimer because it’s such a great place to work. You guys aren’t going anywhere. You love it there. We love to go there and spend time with you and just really bring the message of what you do statewide. Let’s talk about that reception that we can’t have this year and why you should come this year so that you’ll be willing to make the drive next year. We got all that great food, right?
Bill McDonald: Right.
Steve Melito: Great networking opportunity.
Bill McDonald: It was probably the most difficult call that we had to make as partners last year, to cancel the event. For those who have been to the event in the past, we did it right in the center of the college and it had a Main Street type atmosphere where we had networking and industries talking back and forth, guests who came in and it just had that Main Street feel, which we love. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the restrictions that came along with it and the timetable of everything made it impossible for us to pull off an event that we wanted to. We didn’t feel that it was possible to put on the event that we really wanted to put on in a virtual format. However, we’ve had a whole year to plan and we’re very excited about this year’s event. Again, the partnership is strong. I’ve never worked with a greater group of people than the people who are help coordinating this event. We have a lot going on in our region and in the state in terms of enhanced manufacturing opportunities. Distribution centers are just coming to our region in pretty much record numbers, so there’s a lot of excitement in our area. We have a strong history of manufacturing and agribusiness, so we feel that this is going to be the right event at the right time. And the fact that we’re able to share that magic in a virtual platform, I think, and be able to broadcast it statewide is just going to be something that’s not negative, but rather I think is going to prove to be a positive in the future. I know that participants are going to be able to feel that magic in a virtual event. I know the networking that’s going to take place during that event is going to be priceless for some of those participants, and that’s what keeps us all motivated. Although I am disappointed, quite frankly, because I prefer in person everything, because that’s just the kind of person that I am, I’m also very excited about the possibilities that this virtual event is going to have. I am not disappointed per se. I think that this may be a tremendous opportunity to bring a lot more people together that may not have had the opportunity to do so before.
Steve Melito: I think you’re spot on, Bill. It’s almost a bridge in a way. It’s a great opportunity because let’s say that you’re a food company on Long Island, and you might not even, frankly, know where Herkimer, New York is, and you look at the map and say, ” Well, I’ve got to drive X number of hours and I’m not sure what’s going to happen or if there’s going to be value.” But this year you can do the virtual event and participate in some of the really important parts, the networking, the ability to talk to different companies, make connections, everybody’s looking for sales these days, to do all that stuff, and then next year make that drive upstate, or from wherever you are.
Tell us a little bit more about the Herkimer area. I mean, this is not just a food event, this is a technology event as well, because there’s a lot of manufacturing in your neck of the woods.
Bill McDonald: Exactly. So Herkimer County and our contiguous counties have always had a strong history of manufacturers, a lot of small precision manufacturers in our area. Remington Arms had a 200 year history, they are going through a transition, however, the future we’re hoping is going to be bright for that industry as well. But we’re also seeing a lot of, in terms of advanced manufacturing coming in, Cree is building a silicon wafer plant in Marcy, New York, which is about 15 minutes from the college campus, that’s going to have a lot of high paying high tech jobs. And with that industry locating here, there is going to be an opportunity for a lot of small, support businesses in the technology field to come online. So it’s a very exciting time. It’s a very exciting time for our region. Again, to fuse these two things to multiple industries, sectors, that are coming together really at the perfect time to have people come together and network, because our region is starting, after what’s been some challenges. Upstate New York has had some challenges, but I honestly feel, and I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t, that we’ve turned the corner and I believe that the future is bright and the future is now. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of development in our area within the last 18 to 24 months with Tractor Supply building a distribution center. Amazon’s going to be putting a small distribution center here. Pepsi is relocating a distribution center in Herkimer County. And Cargill has a huge distribution center over in Rome. So again, there’s just tremendous opportunities coming up that people are recognizing the value of locating a business in central New York State, being close to infrastructure with affordable power and a tremendous amount of natural resources, and also what is absolutely a stunning natural environment. It really is a wonderful time to be having this discussion and to be part of an event that could spark further growth for me is extremely exciting.
Steve Melito: Bill, I think we’re going to leave it there. We’ve been talking to Bill McDonald, who’s the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the Business Health Science and Technology Division at Herkimer College in Herkimer, New York. Bill is on the podcast today to talk about upcoming event I hope you will register for and be an exhibitor at. It is called How the Mohawk Valley Feeds Innovation. It is scheduled for June 2nd. It’s a virtual event. I hope you’ll come to it this year and then come to it in person next year because this is really a marquee event for FuzeHub, and we’ve just enjoyed working with Herkimer College, Herkimer IDA, AIM, all of the companies that have come there in the past. We want you to be part of it. So without further ado, on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, my name is Steve Melito, I’ll be signing off.