The Stories We Told: NYSMN’s 2023 Recap

From handbags to human hair and concrete to craft brews, the New York State Manufacturing Now podcast traversed a diverse spectrum of ideas turned into reality in 2023. We shared tales of innovation, ingenuity, and triumph from across the state. Beyond being an informative platform, it continues to serve as a source of inspiration, as we recognize that with the right support system, every challenge is surmountable.

Join us as we recap some of the brightest moments from New York State Manufacturing Now in 2023.


Steve Melito: Hey everybody, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today, we’re talking to Elena Garuc, the executive director of FuzeHub. In case you didn’t know, FuzeHub is the statewide center for the New York State Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or NYMEP. This nonprofit organization is also a tireless champion for manufacturing and innovation. When I say tireless, I mean it. FuzeHub is celebrating its 10th anniversary here in June 2023, and it’s full steam ahead towards a bright future. Elena Garuc, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now.

Elena Garuc: Thank you, Steve.

Steve Melito: So, Elena, how has FuzeHub evolved since it was founded 10 years ago?

Elena Garuc: I know I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I feel like I woke up this month and saw, wow, 10 years. It kind of stumbled upon me, but I think the growth that we have experienced is really our programs and our people. I feel like we’ve worked really hard to embrace our role as a statewide resource for technology and manufacturing innovators. We set out on mission of making a difference for the New York State economy and we continue to evolve. We try to listen to the community, to refine our program. We tap into our national network of other MEP centers and that has been such an incredible resource for us and for me as a leader hearing what others are doing and that network is so valuable that I just can’t say enough about it as we continue to evolve. I think what I really love about our organization is we never settle for just OK. Continuous improvement is a big part of the working culture here at FuzeHub. We’re constantly looking at what we did last year. How could we make it better, how could we make it bigger and how could we have a better impact on the community that we’re serving, and I’m always amazed how many people and companies know who we are and how many opportunities are brought to us or that we’re invited into to participate. It’s a great feeling it makes all the hard work over the last 10 years pay off when you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished.

Steve Melito: So what are some lessons learned, both good and bad, over the past 10 years?

Elena Garuc: Well, that’s a good one. I’ve had many lessons, and some are personal. I’ve come to learn how to push myself outside my comfort zone. For those that don’t know, I became the executive director of this wonderful organization in a twist of fate, but it was not the original plan. So I had a lot of self doubt. I doubted my ability, I questioned my skill set and there were times I said to myself I can’t do this. But I’ve learned that if you surround yourself with a good team, you tap into amazing mentors, shout out to Rich Honen, and you focus on your strengths, anything is possible. And the most important thing that I struggled with as a leader is defining how to lead. What does an executive director look like? And then I realized over the last several years that the only person that can define that is myself.

Miriam Dushane: The hybrid model is here to stay. Interestingly enough, more recently a lot published their hiring index, and part of our hiring index is polling employers in the Capital Region 518, but also we got some statewide participation for our data this year. One of the questions we specifically asked was about hybrid and remote work environments, and were companies still doing it. Did they have a significant amount of their workforce that was using that type of model? And over 50% of employers who responded to the survey said that they were doing it in some way. Interestingly enough, though, if you look at all of the participants that responded to the survey, it was almost split 50-50 of those that were going to stay hybrid or remote in some fashion and those who were not. So I think you’re going to see probably a trend for it being more 50-50 divide. The biggest thing that I think employers need to understand is hybrid work is an element of flexibility, and so when you offer flexibility to your employees, the hybrid model is essentially a way of offering that, but I’m sharing with people that I feel that it’s more of a hybrid work when an employee can work from home a couple of days a week is more of a, and I don’t want to put this negatively like a disguise for flexibility. Okay. So employees need flexibility. Employees need to be able to come and go a little bit more than they may feel comfortable doing when they are reporting to an office every day. And so if employers can offer flexibility and it doesn’t necessarily mean flexibility from I work from home one day a week, two days a week, whatever it might be I think you may find a trend where there would be more people coming to offices knowing that their organization had a culture of flexibility. Not necessarily that work from home thing. I really like working from home myself, but I find for me, professionally and personally, I like to have a nice balance. So my preference is I like to go in the office the good chunk of the week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays those are my days in the office most days. But there’ll be days where Wednesday doesn’t make sense for me to drive across town go to my office for whatever meetings and other things that I have planned for my day that are closer to my home office. So if an employer can recognize those types of things, they’re actually probably gonna see higher loyalty and higher productivity out of their employees, because they’re going to be grateful for that, and I know employers are more worried about people taking advantage, and I just wish the mindset would be we trust people, we hold them accountable to results. This is what we need the work to be done, and if it’s in a situation where it doesn’t necessarily need to be done between the hours of eight and five Monday through Friday, allowing for that flexibility to get the end result out there to your customers, or a product or whatever it might be.

Steve Melito: And here you are. So tell me more about the handcrafted wooden purses that you make. How do you make them and what are they made of?

Kema Maxwell: Ooh, loaded question. If you were to ask me the same question that you just did about wood, I don’t know that I could give you such detail. I don’t know when and how wood became a thing in my life. I just know that I say this often enough and people think I’m playing, but I’m not. I’m probably undiagnosed ADHD. I can’t sit still for very long, I can’t stay on one thing for very long, so I keep finding different ways to elevate my craft, and wood came along somehow some way. When COVID hit, I got a grant from the community loan fund and for the longest time you know how they catch you with those commercials and those infomercials. So Glowforge was on my vision board. I’m like one day, one day. And then the grant came along and it was like you have to buy equipment. Well, I think this is an opportunity to buy equipment. So the Glowforge came into my life and I was able to create better wood projects. At the time I only was envisioning handles One of the wood handles on my bag. Now with the Glowforge I can create whole bags with wood. I use all sorts of different wood. I started practicing with MDF because that’s what Glowforge sends to you and it’s easy to mess up and not feel bad about it. And now I’ve moved on to working with walnut, some plywood walnut, actual walnut. Right now I’m working on some white oak, which, oh my God, it’s so beautiful, it’s so beautiful. So I have some white oak that I’m working with right now. So I just, I don’t know, I play around with them and kind of sit down and come up with all these different ideas of what if, and what if becomes realizations.

Steve Melito: That’s amazing. So, believe it or not, I know a little bit about the Glowforge. It’s a laser cutter, right. It is, and do you come up with all of the designs yourself, the files, and then input that information?

Kema Maxwell: Sometimes. And then there are files that are out there in the system on the internet, on Etsy, that you can just pay for and do whatever you want with them. Do they really want you doing that? Probably not. However, there’s literally something called living hinges. So the more cuts you put in wood, the more flexible wood becomes, and there are amazing folks on Etsy that have created living hinges designs. And once you create a shape, you just drop a living hinge in, put it into the Glowforge and you have a whole bag, believe it or not. Add everything else afterwards. You do your staining, figure out where you’re going to put your locking mechanisms and any which way that you’re going to design them or add anything to it.

Steve Melito: I kind of want to come back to something that we share, as we certainly both talk to a lot of startups and, as part of the work I do for the FuzeHub Manufacturer Solutions Program, I hear from a lot of startups that say they need a contract manufacturer, but what they actually need for where they’re at is design for manufacturing assistance and maybe some prototyping help. Do you work with young companies like these?

Chris Berry: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that’s where the fun really starts. You meet these people that have great ideas and they come to us and say you know, we’re ready to go, let’s start producing a million of these a year and we’re like okay, great, share with us your technical materials and then they might show us a technical drawing and things that might be more common for Marquardt might not be as common for others, such as GD&T. On a technical drawing, right, is this thing producible? Do you really need to have aerospace level tolerances on this product? That maybe is a toy for children, right? Does it really require that because it’s going to drive cost? When it comes to electronics, what kind of design guidelines are you using? A schematic is a schematic, but when you do an actual layout on a board, are you considering things like ceramic components and their placement to mounting features or to the edge of the board for flexibility on that board while being used in the real world? And that might lead to degraded performance and unexpected failures in your customer’s hands, which isn’t going to really create that bond that you need to set, especially at that most critical time at the beginning of your relationship, and so we help you kind of. We’ll call it measure twice and cut once.

Steve Melito: You mentioned aerospace. Are there certain industries that you’re especially interested in working with?

Chris Berry: For the people that are working with me on the business development team. We’re really looking for companies within the US that are working within the aerospace, drone defense and medical areas. We are also we kind of have this large bucket that we call other, which many startup companies will fall into, but in terms of what we’ll call the established businesses, really those would be the big four that we’re focusing on.

Steve Melito: So one of the things that your organization does is to give food and beverage companies a way to connect with each other. Can you tell us about that and how you facilitate networking?

Michael Tucker: Well, we learned is the old school method. You know where you need to be in front of people, communicate. You know you can do a lot of these Zooms and podcasts and different things, but when people in a room together, it’s just magic I mean the stuff that goes on, what people get to discuss opportunities. So we take startups and giving them the opportunity to meet C-suite people who are interested in helping, you know, grow the industry. And here you know most companies. No matter what the actual product is, it’s still the same issue and if we’re able to bring them in a room together and discuss it, they’re able to actually solve a lot of these problems and maybe not make the same mistake. And the way we do that is we just recently took a tour of Pintel Coffee and so what we do is we like to go out, we’d like to look at other manufacturing and diversify, you know, between we have professionals part of our group, we have educators part of our group, we have food companies, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, wineries. But it’s interesting when you get to the manufacturing process you still have a lot of the same issues. You know labor, you know logistics, cost of goods. So we like bringing people into the field and seeing how other people do it, and it generates some great conversation and hopefully helps them down the line.

Paul Leone: That’s a great question, Steve, and you know there are a lot of home brewers right now all around and a lot of really good home brewers, and so you know to go from. You know generally a one barrel system and for those that don’t know, a one barrel is two half kegs. Everything’s measured by barrels. Most are either five gallon or one barrel systems. At home it’s completely different to not only go professional and upscale, depending on the size of the system that they want to open and operate. So let’s say they want to go from a one barrel to a five barrel because they’ve got business plans to sell kegged beer or distribute beer. But you know, recipe formulation from a small system to a big system, to an automated system, is really hard to do and the biggest challenge in all of it is the fact that it’s a business right. So a lot of folks really just want to make beer. And then they said you know I’m going to open a brewery because I make this really great beer. Well, you know and Megan sort of touched on it too, and you know the reason why she’s so important to work with all of businesses is because there’s so many components that go into owning a brewery. It’s a business, so there are taxes, there are legal issues, there are accounting issues, there are regulatory issues, all of those things. And we find it interesting, you know, somebody opens a brewery for the first time and they just are sort of scratching their heads because really they’re spending more time on the business side of things than they are on the brewing side of things. So it’s not really as easy as you would think. But you know, brewers are such passionate people and brewery owners are, and that’s why you see 528 of them in New York. It’s an awesome answer.

Meghan Connolly: And that number is we gained 28 breweries during COVID. The growth rate of the industry in New York actually has outpaced the national growth rate for the last several years and I didn’t mention this in your previous question. But it’s worth saying that when I did cold call Paul nine years ago, there were fewer than 150 breweries in the entire state.

Steve Melito: Your product is obviously considered to be a medical device.

Brendan Laing: It is we almost, it’s simple enough that we almost call it a medical accessory. Okay, and it’s accessory to a cat.

Steve Melito: Okay. So, Brendan, we have a IV Wedge with us. Can you explain what it’s about, what it’s like, why it looks the way it does?

Brendan Laing: Absolutely so. The IV Wedge is a really simple medical device. It’s made of a very soft silicone so it’s very flexible, very malleable. You would insert the IV catheter and then, once it’s inserted, you would slide the IV wedge underneath it and you could see that cavity there holds the hub of the catheter and it prevents any bilateral movement. Once you put the IV wedge underneath the catheter, you would put a piece of tegaderm or a piece of semi-transparent dressing over the entire system to keep it secure there. But you can tell it’s really preventing any contact between the catheter and the patient’s skin. So it’s helping maintain the skin integrity and preventing any of that movement and holding the catheter secure.

Steve Melito: Thank, you, I’m like say gauze, which will loosen over time.

Brendan Laing: Exactly, so you can imagine if this captor was in and you just had gauze supporting it. There’s nothing really preventing that movement. There’s tape over it, but there’ll be tape over the wedge as well. But it’s really not a secure solution. Gauze moves, gauze gets wet, gauze shifts positions when the patient moves so it’s a really unreliable solution.

Steve Melito: Right, and why is one part of this device colored pink and the rest of it’s a different color? Is that a color coding scheme?

Brendan Laing: Good, question. So for the, the critical listeners, this is actually the IV catheter. Is the picked part? Okay, this is actually an extension piece, so they attach this to IV catheters. So if you have to change the medication or refill it, you don’t actually have to tug right where it’s injected or inserted into the patient. You use this I don’t know five inch piece of tubing.

Kema Maxwell: The first thing folks try to come at you with is do you have a website? Do you have a website? And I’ve said this before it’s like who did your website? Once they see my website and I’m like FuzeHub I was like can I get the information for your website? Absolutely, it’s FuzeHub. So thank you guys, because I get more compliments on my website, or I should say I get as much compliments on my website as I do on my products. So you guys are amazing, the configurator. Previously, I had a brainstorm that I wanted to have one-on-one relationships with my customers, but I wanted you to come with an idea. So there was a lot less talking and more creativity going on, right. So I created in my head what I could not bring to life and did the very best I could to explain to you guys. This is how I want it to look, this is what I want to have happen, but I don’t know how to make this happen. And you guys were so amazing and so patient working with me to bring to life the aspect on my website where you can go in, you can click on the back and say, yeah, I don’t really like the look of this in black. Can I make it brown? Can I make my hardware look in this color and literally see those changes happen before your eyes?

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