In our latest Podcast, FuzeHub’s Steve Melito sits down with Kristofor Sellstrom, Energy and Gas Resources Manager at Jamestown Board of Public Utilities to discuss the Retool WNY Initiative’s upcoming climate technology conference for the upstate NY manufacturing community.
New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019 sets aggressive targets for decarbonization and reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050. Steve and Kris talk about the October conference and the opportunities to learn, network, and collaborate on projects to develop new business in the emerging climate technology sector.
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Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by Fuse Hub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today, we’re talking to Kristofor Sellstrom, Energy and Gas Resources manager at the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities in Jamestown, New York. But we’re not going to be talking about the BPU, the Board of Public Utilities, at least not directly. Instead, we’ll be discussing Retool’22, a climate tech conference for manufacturers. So Kristofor, welcome to the podcast.
Kristofor Sellstrom: Thanks for having me.
Steve Melito: Hey, before we begin, I just want to let everybody know that this two day event is coming up soon, October 17th to 19th at the Northwest Arena in Jamestown. And from there, I think we got to let you talk about it. So tell us, what is Retool’22 and what’s going to happen there?
Kristofor Sellstrom: Thanks. So Retool’22 is a multi- day event for manufacturers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, financers and investors, and anyone else that wants to learn about manufacturing climate technology. It’s going to be a pretty cool event. We’ve got a ton of networking opportunities both leading up to and during the event. There’s some cocktail hours at the Robert H. Jackson Center, the Institute, which also has a pretty cool art exhibit right now on art that matters to the planet. A mixer at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. There’s some tabling sessions, and some dine- arounds in the community, and some curling. There’s an electrified showcase showcasing electrified vehicles and equipment. We’ll have some development site tours, a really cool event at the National Comedy Center for Dinner one night. And the whole conference is focused on that manufacturer, that entrepreneur, business leader that wants to explore diversifying their business, creating a new business in the climate technology sector, which is a really interesting sector that’s growing very rapidly here in New York State. And we have some keynote speakers too, Clint Wilder, who is the co- author of Cleantech Nation, and is the editorial director of Clean Edge. And John Ellis, who’s a former Ford Global technologist. Pretty cool stuff. So if you want to learn about the climate technology sector here in New York, and about opportunities, and resources and incentives from manufacturers and startups, this is an event for you.
Steve Melito: Sounds like a pretty good time. In addition to being interesting and informative, and a place to make connections, it sounds like there’s going to be a lot of stuff to do. So the tagline for this event, Kristofor, is a climate tech conference for manufacturers. And I just wanted to ask, what is climate tech and why should it be a priority for manufacturers?
Kristofor Sellstrom: Yeah, it’s an important point. Climate tech is a pretty broad statement, but it boils down to anything that really is progressing decarbonizing the economy. So it could be even be a widget that goes into an electric vehicle. It could be a piece of metal fabrication that is used for heat pumps. It could be anything that is driving decarbonization. And I think there’s a lot of conversation around the electric sector, and electric energy, and solar and wind. But here in New York State, those targets have been set, that market is pretty mature. And the electric is only around 13% of the total emissions in the state. 60% of the emissions in the state are actually building in transportation sectors. If you think about the goals of decarbonizing the economy, we should be going after the building and transportation sectors and if you think about all the buildings in New York State, all the buildings in the country and in the world, and you think about all the transportation vehicles, the trains, the cars, the buses. You think about all this infrastructure, and all this equipment that needs to be electrified, it needs to be decarbonized, someone has to build it, someone has to install it. And this is just a huge opportunity for manufacturers, and a huge opportunity for New York State, as well as the US economy, to start to bring some of this manufacturing back onshore, and to create the new energy market and the new era of manufacturing. So the climate tech is kind of a broad statement, and it can cover any of those sectors, but if you’re working toward decarbonizing something, you’re in the climate technology sector.
Steve Melito: Good to know. How did Jamestown BPU get involved in this event? Wouldn’t you want to sell more and not less energy to manufacturers?
Kristofor Sellstrom: Yeah, certainly. We’re a municipal utility company. We serve electric, we also serve other sources of utilities as well. We have water, wastewater, we have a district thermal system that puts out hot water to our community. We’re really involved in this mostly because we’ve seen the legislation, we’ve seen a lot of movement in the electric sector, which again, is only like 13% of the emissions. But it is a sector that can be pretty rapidly decarbonized, and we’re directly impacted by that decarbonization process. And as we’re looking at this market and this legislation, particularly the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that was passed recently in New York State, is going through this growth cycle, it’s looking at all sectors of the economy. So we might be the first ones to see it, because electric was first up on the chopping block of things to fix. But as we got into it, we realized that this is a huge manufacturing opportunity. And as a municipal utility, our success is really the success of our community. Our goal is to grow our community, to stabilize our community. We are a Rust Belt community that’s kind of, in the 1980s we lost a lot of manufacturing and haven’t really recovered from a manufacturing perspective. So we have a lot of manufacturing space that’s available. We have a great workforce here that’s ready to work. We have existing manufacturers who we want to come to this conference and try to diversify their portfolio. They might be companies that make parts for auto manufacturers, that maybe are making parts for combustion vehicles, and we’re trying to encourage them to look at making parts for the electric vehicles so that they’re diverse in their future outlook. And so we’re just trying to get that conversation going. And we think that if you can get enough manufacturers all thinking about the same topic and the same industry, then you can create a catalyst that will enable growth. And ultimately that growth is a good thing for our community, and it’s a good thing for the utility.
Steve Melito: Absolutely, now that makes sense. So hey, at FuzeHub, we talked to small to medium manufacturers all the time, and it’s probably no surprise to you that a lot of the conversations are about workforce or supply chain. There’s always something pressing for manufacturers to deal with on a day- to- day basis. Can’t they just wait to think about climate technology until another time?
Kristofor Sellstrom: No. If you want to grow, the best time to get into these markets is early on. Early on in market growth, you typically have barriers to entry that are learning curves, limited market segments, there might not be enough demand, legal barriers, and capital. Early on those might be challenges, and you got to spend time looking at those challenges. But at the same time, New York State and the federal government are actively working to reduce those barriers. They’re injecting a massive amount of capital into R and D, financing, into scale- ups and creating rapid growth opportunities. And they’re changing the rules of the game through significant legislation like the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. So if you are able to get into these markets now, a lot of those barriers can be removed by these legislations, and this investment. At the same time, if you wait too long, the market will start to become mature. And you’ll end up, if you wanted to enter later on, you’re going to have to have most of those barriers. Maybe the market is now there and there’s demand, but you won’t get the government support at that time. You’re going to have to go through the learning curve still. You’re still going to have the capital requirements, but there won’t be grant opportunities and tax incentives. You’d also then have to compete with other companies that have now gained an upper leg. They have an advantage of economies of scale, they’ve mastered the technology, they have the supply chain connections. So really the opportunity is early on, it’s really getting into these markets now and creating an environment where you are set to grow as the demand grows, and take advantage of the legislation and the incentives that are out there.
Steve Melito: So this really is the time, and I think you’ve made a great case for that to not wait and to invest in this opportunity, even with everything that’s going on. What would you say, or what else would you say to a manufacturer that might want to attend but is still on the fence, so to speak? What are they going to miss out on at this event?
Kristofor Sellstrom: For me, a huge piece of this event for manufacturers is the networking opportunities. We’re going to have so many awesome points of contact, and ways to mingle and network with fellow manufacturers, investors, business leaders. So if you’re thinking about getting into it, even have an inkling of it, I was just coming just to meet the other people who have maybe an inkling of it, or a desire to maybe expand their business or grow and succeed. And by meeting each other, you can push yourselves over to the next step, and maybe make supply chain connections or manufacturing opportunities and partnership opportunities. There’s also going to be different tracks, so you’ll have opportunities to learn about different components of the industry. So if your barrier to entry maybe is capital, there’s going to be people there with startup organizations that have capital to invest. They have investors ready to roll, and they’re looking for the right investments. There’s going to be people there who have access to different types of capital, beyond the initial startup phase, but maybe they’re looking to invest into a business and grow a business. There’s going to be people there from the government that have knowledge of the existing state and federal resources that are available to manufacturers, to bring that capital in. That’s just one track, there’s there’s other tracks as well. One really exciting piece that I’m excited about is the potential to meet the buyers of bigger companies that are looking for these small manufacturers to produce products for them, because they are moving into that sector and they need to build their supply chain network. If you’re a medium to small manufacturer, this is a great opportunity to find out what those major manufacturers and major companies need, and position yourself to supply them, and then make those connections at the same time.
Steve Melito: It sure is, and I can tell you from experience, having been to lots of events for FuzeHub over the years, what manufacturers want is the ability to make those supply chain connections, to be able to have that chance to talk to somebody, and you’re going to give them a way to do it. So a while back, you mentioned a word that’s music to a lot of manufacturers’ ears, and that word is grants. Can you tell us about any grants that are available as part of Retool’22 or Retool Western New York, which I think is the larger umbrella?
Kristofor Sellstrom: From a direct grant perspective, under the Retool initiative, there isn’t anything that’s directly related to the conference. However, there will be multiple sessions on resources that are available both at the state and federal level. They’ll give you the background on what’s available there, what to go after, and how to go after it, as well as some of the people who are administering those grants will be there. It’s a great opportunity. From a local perspective, in parallel to the Retool’22, there is a Retool Western New York Initiative. And the whole initiative is focused on this bigger picture of creating an environment where manufacturers can diversify and enter the market segments of climate technology, as well as recruit new manufacturers to the area. And that Retool Western New York Initiative has a bunch of cogs in the wheel trying to move this forward. There’s a workforce development program at the community college, that is ramping up and will be starting next spring. There is some local funding for some manufacturers to do studies of their existing processes and workforce, to evaluate what they would need to do to change into a climate technology segment. So if they have this manufacturing line that does this process, could that process also be used for some other component that could then be sold into the climate technology sector? We’re also marketing the area as a place to do business. We’re trying to get momentum going, so that when you have a couple manufacturers who are working on the same topic or in the same area, they can leverage each other’s experience and kind of work together. Even though they have their own markets, they might share in the resources of the community college that are ramping up workforce. Or they might share in shipping costs because maybe they’re making part of a widget, and they can ship it across the street to the next company that’s adding to that. So as you get to these economies of scale and the community of scale, I think that’s a really important part of it. And there’s a ton of partners that are working on the Retool Western New York Initiative as a whole. So there’s a ton of support with the IDA, the Chambers of Commerce. It’s a pretty cool thing. Small Business Development Center is a really active participant as well, so there’s ways to leverage them to help grow and expand your business and start a new business even.
Steve Melito: Great. One last question. And you had mentioned partners, we would be remiss, I think, if we didn’t mention NYSERDA. What is their relationship with all of this?
Kristofor Sellstrom: Yeah, so NYSERDA is one of the primary sponsors of the Retool Western New York initiative, including this Retool’22 conference. The BPU a couple years ago, was trying to figure out how can we go about making the case for diversifying our manufacturers? How can we pull them away from their desks for a little bit to look at what’s coming up at them and what’s coming next, and try to get them into a position where they can take advantage of those? And so we had applied for a NYSERDA grant, and were rewarded quite a bit of money to do this initiative, so they’re the primary funders of both Retool WNY and the Retool’22. And they also are bringing a bunch of great speakers and connections to many other manufacturers to the conference.
Steve Melito: Fantastic. So Kristofor, thank you so much for being on New York State Manufacturing Now.
Kristofor Sellstrom: Thanks so much for having me. I hope to see you at the conference.
Steve Melito: You bet. We’ve been talking to Kristofor Sellstrom of the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities, or BPU, about Retool’22, a climate tech conference for manufacturers. This event is scheduled for October 17th to 19th at the Northwestern Arena in Jamestown, New York. Now, if you’d like to register, here’s a shortened version of the link. It’s bit. ly/ retool_22_register. If you feel you need some additional information first, maybe you need to ask your boss, maybe you’ve got some colleagues that you’d like to bring, Retool’22 also has an informational page. And again, here’s a shortened version of that link that you can find online. It’s bit.ly/ retool_22_info. And if you didn’t get those links, don’t worry. Just email [email protected] com and let us know what you’re looking for. And we’ll encourage you to make the trip to Jamestown and go to Retool’22. Now’s the time. So on behalf of New York State Manufacturing now and FuzeHub, this is Steve Melito, signing off.