This year, in an effort to spotlight the positive work being done in the local manufacturing sector, the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Asso- ciation and Rochester Business Journal partnered to create the region’s first-ever Technology and Manufacturing Awards.
The Greater Rochester region relies on roughly 1,500 small and mid-sized manufacturers that together employ more than 62,000 people. For years, most of the attention given to this sector had been focused on what was happening with the companies once referred to as Rochester’s Big Three—Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. Now, RTMA and RBJ are shining a spotlight on the lesser-known outfits that hold such a significant place in the local economy and carry the respect of their peers in the industry. These awards also recognize the non-profit organizations working to bolster the area’s labor force.
Awards were given out in eight different categories: Manufacturing Innovation–Large Companies, Manufacturing Innovation–Small Companies, Powerful Partnership, Workforce Development–Manufacturing Enterprise, Workforce Development–Training and Support Providers, Executive of the Year, Rising Star and Chairperson’s Award. Nominations were evaluated by a panel of experts and award winners were announced in a luncheon ceremony on Oct. 27 at the Hyatt Regency.
The award categories and nominees can be seen below.
Manufacturing Innovation, Large Company (100-plus employees)
CooperVision’s main plant in Scottsville is the hub of the contact lens company’s culture and history.
That’s certainly not a surprise, especially since the company’s lineage dates back to 1958 and has occupied the same Scottsville location since 1980.
Bob Ooyama, the plant’s director of engineering, already thinks of it as his “dream job” after just 18 months with the company. Not only because of the location, but because of what plant manager Tricia Willreich calls a “can-do facility.” As most of its contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, the oldest plant site in the company has managed to stay afloat by navigating the tricky business of automating their work. From 2013 to 2016, the plant went from totally manual operations to 51 percent automated. “As we go towards automation, lots of different factors are in there.” Ooyama says. “How do we make the jobs safer for our employees and also carry that quality as we come through?”
Results have spiked, as productivity is up 92 percent in three years and output is up 54 percent.
As for the workers who were understandably affected, Willreich says management made sure to grandfather in longtime employees to see if they could adjust to a new work environment. “When we started down this automated journey, we didn’t know if the people we had employed here could make this leap,” she admitted.
“But we didn’t replace our employees with new people. We trained our workforce to run these automation lines and support them in various new roles. It’s been a transition over time.”
As far as future growth plans, Ooyama readily admits the suburban location of the Scottsville plant — shaded by trees along North Road — makes things tricky.
“We really like the location here,” he says. “It does present some challenges. As we’re doing construction, how do (we) make sure we’re not disturbing (our) neighbors?”
Plans include renovations and upgrades to the plant, ranging from employee perks (a new lounge) to new business units. Willreich says the aim is “to build a showcase and a place where employees can be proud to come.”
It all started for JN White in 1960 off the back of a single screen printer.
These days the Perry-based company is a little bigger, having grown to around 100 employees and recently rebranded (formerly known as J.N. White Designs), but it still manufactures labels, graphic overlays, and membrane switches.
“We’ve made this huge investment in technology and people,” says Noel Bittner, director of marketing. “There’s quite a few initiatives ongoing to drive the company forward.”
Those initiatives included spending upwards of $1.7 million on new equipment over the last four years, including an HP Indigo 5600 digital press.
“That is really industry-changing from our perspective,” notes Ken Boss, vice president of marketing. “We were the first label switch/membrane switch manufacturer to take delivery of that. We may have been the first company in North America” to have that model. The press allows contractors to get what Boss calls “very unique looks” for their control panels and labels.
Their prospective contractors are larger in stature too, as the company is ITAR-certified (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) and can work with Department of Defense subcontractors.
It’s all part of what Bittner calls the “innovative spirit” of the company.
Part of that spirit is to adhere to Lean Six Sigma standards, which is a way to reduce waste in the workplace. Not just physical waste, but wasted time, Boss says.
“We’re working with RIT and a certified (Lean Six Sigma) expert. We’re looking to continue to progress through efforts and initiatives.”
When asked how the company has thrived over the years, Bittner has an easy answer.
“I think the secret sauce of the company is that much of the work we do here is custom. (A customer) has something in their head they want to produce and they don’t know how to produce it. People come here with a problem, and we solve it.”
Optimax Systems Inc.
Optimax Systems has carved out a niche that has taken the company far beyond its birth in a Webster barn—even all the way to Mars.
Its specialty is prototype optics—working with contractors on the latest optical technology. It’s a practice dating back to their 1991 launch, when they were an early leader in computer-based optics. While Optimax will often partner with familiar names like Kodak or the University of Rochester, it also is involved in government work.
Most of that can’t legally be discussed in a newspaper. There are exceptions, however, like their work for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Program.
“We made all the camera lenses for rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity,” CEO Rick Plympton says proudly.
It’s part of the charm of working for a company Plympton admits is not set up for bulk production.
“Once (contractors) decide what they want to do in high volume manufacturing to take to the market—we won’t be a player in that,” he says. “What we make here is typically (in quantities of) 1 to 100. We’re not the type of factory to make millions of anything.”
The factory made at least six lenses for the NASA rovers, from those used on practice runs in the desert to the ones used on the surface of Mars. An example of civilian work includes partnering with the University of Rochester on improving Lasik eye surgery lasers.
“The solution they’re working on, you don’t even have to open your eye.” Plympton says. “The laser just focuses inside your eye for 30 seconds. You sit up and there’s zero healing time.”
Optimax’s success is due to methods like lean manufacturing, in which they can turn around prototypes in less than a week.
“(Kodak) engineers would call us with a purchase order for lenses,” Plympton notes with a chuckle. “We could finish making the lenses before they could finish making the paperwork.”
Ale’ Mendoza, the company’s HR manager and an 11-year employee, came from a military background “The evolution I’ve gone through has been really unique. It’s demonstrated that you can have very different environments to empower your workforce to do extraordinary things,” he says.
Manufacturing Innovation, Small Company (under 100 employees)
Some former Eastman Kodak Co. employees saw the light and went into business for themselves when Kodak got out of organic light emitting diodes in 2010. The result is OLEDWorks, a venture that is a bright spot in Rochester’s industrial evolution and a world leader in its field.
OLEDWorks is the only manufacturer of OLED lighting in the United States, and its facility on Lyell Avenue in Rochester is the U.S. Department of Energy’s only qualified testing site. As such, OLEDWorks has made Rochester the de facto center of focus for OLED lighting technology, innovation and manufacturing.
OLEDWorks is tapping into Rochester Institute of Technology’s talent pool and technical expertise. The company has since its inception employed RIT student co-ops, including two who have been hired as full-time employees. OLEDWorks, which also has a facility in Aachen, Germany, has 35 employees in Rochester.
The company is collaborating with Corning Inc. to commercialize OLED lighting on Corning’s ultra-thin Willow glass that is 100 microns thick and bendable when lit. OLEDWorks’ product portfolio includes the most energy-efficient and long-living OLED light engines that are commercially available.
“Lighting impacts everyone,” says John Hamer, OLEDWorks chief operating officer and co-founder. “Health, mood, productivity and safety are all influenced by our light quality experience. OLEDWorks is proud to be an innovator in a technology that produces the world’s first naturally diffuse, broad spectrum lighting that packages superb light quality with all the advantages of solid-state efficiency and controls into an impressively thin profile. Our panels are the brightest in the industry and with R&D and manufacturing in Rochester, OLEDWorks is committed to growing the enterprise in the U.S. with our outstanding local skill base.”
Rochester Gear Inc.
Rochester Gear Inc. opened in 1925 as a small lot production machine shop that grew over time to produce gears used to help create Xerox copiers and the moon buggy that traversed the surface of Earth’s satellite more than 230,000 miles away.
The company did business for years manufacturing commercial gears for its customer base, but life at Rochester Gear began to change dramatically when new owners Anthony Fedor and Scott Caccamise took over 10 years ago.
It was clear to Fedor and Caccamise, president and vice president respectively, that they needed to manufacture a higher-quality precision gear in order for the business to grow. In 10 years, Rochester Gear has invested
$2.675 million in equipment that has given the company the ability to produce precision gears that customers are demanding,
“The timing of capital investment created significant growth,” says Fedor, who had retired after 33 years from Eastman Kodak Co. when he began a new career in the gear business 10 years ago.
The 38-employee operation in northwest Rochester has grown by 67 percent under Fedor and Caccamise. Rochester Gear’s productivity also has improved appreciably over the past decade, from $119,000 in sales per employee to $167,000 in sales per employee.
Rochester Gear’s internal training program also has been key to the company developing a very capable workforce that takes pride in its work, company officials say. The company produces small and medium-sized gears for handheld power tools, portable mixers, business machines, off-road vehicles, medical equipment, peripheral aircraft equipment and meat processing industries, among others.
Attention to quality and detail apparently is paying off, as demonstrated by the number of bad parts returned by customers having dropped from 1,582 parts per million in 2007 to 196 parts per million in 2016.
“Rochester Gear is fortunate to have engineering and operator experience resulting in a strong commitment to quality,” Fedor says.
Vance Metal Fabricators
Top executives at Vance Metal Fabricators decided to do some major “home renovations” when the company’s core industrial business became soft in 2015 and 2016 as oil prices dropped. They restructured their manufacturing space on Gambee Road in Geneva that allowed ratcheting up of sales through increased production of fermentation tanks for the booming beer, wine and hard cider industries. The manufacturing space overhaul was completed this past April.
In July, Vance Metal Fabricators paraded three new 2,500-gallon stainless steel tanks more than 30 miles down Route 14 along the west side of Seneca Lake to Lakewood Vineyards several miles north of the village of Watkins Glen. The winery tracked the tanks’ trip and held a viewing party in its new production area. The celebration was inspired by the highly publicized 225-mile journey about a month earlier of 12 tanks along the Erie Canal to Genesee Brewing Co. in Rochester. Vance Metal Fabricators also is involved in another major beverage-industry project — fabricating two brewhouses for ProBrew in Wisconsin.
Vance Metal, which has 70 employees and started out in 1880 as a boiler manufacturer, is a large-capacity metal fabricator and weld shop serving diverse industries, from heavy manufacturing to technology to agriculture. The employee-owned company got into the tank market about 20 years ago and now produces tanks for customers in 20 states and Canada.
“We are very fortunate to have outstanding employees who ensure that our customers are receiving worldclass products from right here in the Finger Lakes,” says Patrick Farrington, sales and marketing manager for Vance Metal Fabricators. “Without the dedication of these employees and our loyal customer base choosing Vance Metal, we would not be who we are today.”
Workforce Development, Manufacturing Enterprise Division
Global Precision Industries
Global Precision Industries has been eager and willing to take chances on hiring people with very little or no experience and training them. During the last three years, the Chili-based precision component manufacturer has hired military veterans through the Veterans Outreach Center and given them the opportunity to learn about manufacturing, including running Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, assembling and washing parts, assisting with logistics and other roles.
“We have found great success with hiring candidates that are very inexperienced but are excited and eager to learn a skilled trade and be proud of what they do,” says Andrew Prestigiacomo, Global Precision Industries’ sales and marketing manager. “We have hired employees that were working at McDonald’s or other fast food companies and just wanted an opportunity to prove their worth, and some of them have been the best hires that I have been involved with.”
Prestigiacomo is a poster boy for Global Precision Industries’ workforce development efforts. He started working for the company as a CNC machine operator in 2010 when he was attending Greece Athena High School and looking for a summer job. He spent several years operating CNC machines and learning about the manufacturing trade while working on his bachelor’s degree in business marketing and management through the 2+2 program at Monroe Community College and St. John Fisher College. When he received his degree, Prestigiacomo was placed in charge of Global Precision Industries’ sales and marketing department, along with human resources.
The 35-employee company also has strong Rochester Institute of Technology ties. Global Precision Industries owners Mark Wheeler and Robert Nuccitelli Jr. are RIT engineering alumni, and the firm has had more than a dozen RIT student co-ops in the past few years. Some have stayed with Global Precision Industries and been promoted, including GPI’s quality manager and engineering manager, both of whom have been with the company for more than five years.
Gray Metal Products
Gray Metal Products has, as part of a grand plan, experienced major job growth over the past year, going from a workforce of 171 people in July 2016 to 222 today. The Avon-based manufacturer turned to Monroe Community College’s Economic and Workforce Development Center for help in obtaining partial funding to provide training for some employees so they can grow with the new technologies that Gray Metal Products is implementing to streamline some of its processes. Gray Metal Products also has used Livingston County Workforce Development job fairs to hire local talent looking to bridge the gap from high school to the working world.
The company, which is under the leadership of the fourth generation of Grays, manufactures more than 5,000 varieties of heating and air conditioning products, as well as custom and specialized goods. Gray Metal Products’ focus on job growth is tied to strategic planning that company officials say has allowed them to come up with the right business model that strengthens a commitment to provide customers with the best possible products and service.
“Gray Metal Products has a culturally diverse workforce employing many individuals from various charitable agencies who have come to this country seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families,” vice president Richard Gray says. “We provide them with the necessary skills, tools and training to become productive workers contributing to their communities. Many have gone on to become U.S. citizens. As a family-owned company, GMP understands the importance of the work-life balance and strives to adapt to the needs of its workforce.”
Optimation Technology Inc.
Optimation Technology executives decided almost a decade ago that an apprenticeship program would be a good way to nurture fresh talent and try to help the company grow.
“We determined that while our greatest selling point is the expertise of our employees, we needed to ensure that the next generation of workers had the same depth and breadth for the good of the company and the employees and for the Rochester region as a whole,” says Jennifer Palumbo, marketing director for Optimation.
The firm, which has roughly 200 employees in Rush, specializes in engineering, automation, construction and maintenance services from the conceptual stage to full production-scale operations.
Optimation Technology apprentices attend classes at Monroe Community College and are expected to work 40-hour weeks. The company offers a five-year state-certified apprenticeship in electrical and pipefitting and a four-year apprenticeship in millwright, welding and sheet metal. Since Optimation Technology’s apprentice program began in 2008, 18 people have graduated as journeymen. Eight apprentices are currently enrolled, with a new class selected at the end of the summer.
Although the company does not have a similar program for engineers, the firm hires at least one student intern/co-op on the engineering and design side each summer. Students from Rochester Institute of Technology and Alfred University supply a talent pool for semester-long stints, including an Alfred University intern who is working with Optimation Technology’s research and development lab in web handling and web conveyance.
Some student co-ops have been hired after graduation, including Optimation Technology’s newest safety engineer, Hodari Pryce, who became a full-fledged employee after spending several semesters with the company as an RIT co-op.
Workforce Development, Training & Support Providers Division
ArcWorks, A Division of Arc of Monroe
Training and support are at the core of the Arc of Monroe County’s mission to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find jobs. One of the Arc’s key programs is ArcWorks, a subcontract manufacturing services provider that provides employment for 183 people at a facility in the former Valeo plant on Lyell Avenue in the city. Eight other people work off-site at another manufacturing company. The Arc utilizes several programs for training through the agency’s ArcWorks facility and Job Path employment program, which supports 350-400 people annually in the region. Arc has a network of more than 200 employers/business partners, including leading employers such as the University of Rochester Medical Center, Thermo Fisher, Wegmans and Paychex.
“As a leader in subcontracting manufacturing services, we believe the best investment we can make is in the training and skill development of our workforce,” says Kathy Moylan, Arc’s senior administrator for transition. “Having an inclusive and diverse workforce that embraces learning and is committed to a high standard of excellence is a tremendous benefit to our organization, our business customers and our community. We want our employees to feel as passionate as we are about our business success.”
ArcWorks appears to be a hit with its workforce: the employee attendance rate is 98 percent and quality rating for all goods and services produced is over 99 percent.
Arc’s approach to workforce development includes an extensive orientation process, eLearning via an online platform for companywide training and professional development, customized and in-person training, and a focus on learning and living the agency’s core values.
The agency also has two higher education transitional services that provide opportunities to learn life and employment skills in a college setting. MCC College Experience is a partnership with Greece Central School District and Monroe Community College, and LifePrep@ Naz is a partnership with Victor Central School District and Nazareth College. LifePrep@Naz, which opened its doors to its freshman class in the fall of 2011, has a program capacity of 20 students.
MCC Division of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services
The Monroe Community College Division of Economic Development & Innovative Workforce Services, or IWS, has become an important player in efforts to help the Rochester region adapt to the new economy by offering professional development and training for individuals, businesses and community organizations.
The MCC division provides education and training in 100 manufacturing career fields, including advanced manufacturing trades such as mechatronics, precision machining and optical fabrication.
The EDIWS, which operates the Economic and Workforce Development Center at MCC’s new downtown Rochester campus in High Falls, uses data collection, observation and measurement to monitor training results and ROI in learning. Research has led MCC to create accelerated courses to fill industry needs. The EDIWS, in one case, accelerated the school’s Precision Tooling Certificate program for residents of economically distressed city neighborhoods. The program has a 90 percent completion rate.
Technical training also has helped displaced workers and military veterans get back to work sooner. One recent accelerated course allowed workers to earn their certificates in six months rather than the typical year, which gives them the potential to earn a half-year’s worth of paychecks they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
“We are committed to an innovative and data-driven approach to economic and workforce development at MCC,” says Todd Oldham, vice president of the Economic & Workforce Development office at MCC. “Aligning programs to local labor market analysis ensures that our solutions will meet workforce needs.” The MCC division also provides training for regional businesses. Corporate training contracts increased 48 percent last year. The majority of business clients—80 percent—are in manufacturing. EDIWS programs offer opportunities for co-ops, internships and job shadowing. In 2016, more than 700 non-traditional students in Career Technical Education and Workforce Development programs were placed in local businesses, including 179 in advanced manufacturing.
University of Rochester Information Technology
The University of Rochester’s Information Technology staff may be hard at work overseeing the university’s extensive technology operations, but they make sure to find time for another priority: providing guidance to high school students considering careers in the IT world.
“We see internship programs, and specifically our partnership with the Rochester City School District, as one of the ways employers in the region can contribute to the professional development of our youth and retain talent in the Rochester area,” says David E. Lewis, UR’s vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer. “Partnerships like these are a win-win—the students gain skills and experiences that prepare them for a career, and employees get the opportunity to mentor and develop youth in the community.”
UR Information Technology’s investment in the future of local high school students and the economic health of the region includes mentoring Edison Career and Technology High School freshmen monthly, as well as providing job shadow opportunities for sophomores and internships for juniors and seniors. The Information Technology staff also tries to help students prepare for the real world post-school by assisting with mock interviews and graduating senior exit interviews.
Four Edison Tech students also had internships with UR Information Technology over the summer. The UR Information Technology staff has started working with the Rochester City School District administration to provide mentoring and internship opportunities to schools in addition to Edison Tech. Edison Tech principal Walter Larkin Jr. calls UR Information Technology’s commitment to his school’s students a model partnership for professional development.
For years, the city school has connected classroom learning to internships and mentoring to prepare students for life after graduation. This allows Edison Tech students to learn current technology, view industry best practices first-hand and develop workplace soft skills, all while making professional contacts. A recent survey of Edison Tech alumni showed they cite the opportunity to have real world professional experiences as the part of their high school education they most value, and that those opportunities led to their professional success.
OptiPro Systems and Golisano Institute for Sustainability
For manufacturing workers, knowing what to do—or more importantly, what not to do—when working on an unfamiliar project is crucial to getting the job done right.
In many cases, this means carefully following written instructions and two-dimensional diagrams that detail each step of the process. While this is a time-honored way of providing such instructions, some in the industry know there’s a better approach on the horizon, and in 2017 two local outfits partnered to make it available to small and mid-sized operations.
Earlier this year, Ontario, N.Y.-based optics equipment manufacturer OptiPro Systems began working with the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology to develop mobile, wearable augmented reality technology that delivers instructions to workers on the shop floor in an interactive, easy-to-access way.
Using this technology, workers can see how to complete a task in real time, with virtual guides showing them what to do and what to avoid doing. The system can also collect valuable data from the shop floor in real time which can then be used to improve the overall manufacturing process.
These types of devices have proven beneficial in other areas, such as the defense and aerospace industries, but because much of their development has been cost-prohibitive, proprietary or both, OptiPro and GIS formed a special partnership to address the gap between technology and opportunity, and developed a tool that can be used by small and mid-sized manufacturers.
Those involved with the partnership say their goal was twofold: Build a tool that seamlessly connects workers to the resources they need to do their job more accurately and efficiently, and give that tool the same functionality for information management as its sophisticated commercial counterparts, but in a more flexible and cost-effective package.
This team not only leveraged each other’s capabilities to make the idea a reality, but garnered state and federal funds for the project, as well.
Panther Graphics and Edison Career and Technology High School
When he was younger, Panther Graphics owner and president Tony Jackson was a product of Rochester’s Edison Career and Technology High School. Today, he’s its valued partner.
Students at Edison Tech are given the skills to take many paths after they graduate: enter the workforce, attend a vocational or apprenticeship program, enroll in community college or pursue a four-year degree. This array of options is made possible due in large part to the school’s ability to partner with other entities and create opportunities for students that might not exist elsewhere.
Jackson, an alumnus of the school, actively works to provide such opportunities to Edison’s students through its Print Shop program, one of the school’s hallmark offerings that has been running for decades. With Jackson contributing input and assistance on curriculum, classroom design, equipment audits and software, this program ensures students have gained the skills and experience necessary to enter the workforce in the printing field upon their graduation.
This fall, Panther is also offering internships to Edison students as part of the school’s renewed co-op program, which school officials say will give students key experience in the professional workplace and help keep local talent in the Rochester community.
Most recently, Panther consulted on and donated the printing of Edison’s marketing viewbook for its new Choose Edison campaign. School officials say in
the months that followed the distribution of this book they saw a marked increase in the number of school tour requests, more freshman choosing to enroll at Edison and greater overall awareness of the school’s programs.
Rochester Gear and Horizon Solutions
Rochester Gear Inc. is a world-class competitor in the manufacturing of small and medium-sized gears. It is recognized for its excellent customer service and unparalleled quality of products, and its years-long relationship with supplier Horizons Solutions has played a key role in its success in the market.
Rochester Gear and Horizon have had a traditional supplier-manufacturer relationship for several years. Over the course of the last two years, though, the companies’ relationship became even more integrated through a vendor-managed inventory arrangement. This has allowed Rochester Gear to focus on manufacturing its products while leveraging Horizon’s expertise in supply chain.
Currently, Horizon manages more than 450 products for Rochester Gear on a weekly replenishment schedule, ensuring Rochester Gear’s operators have what they need when they need it. This also allows Rochester Gear to keep a leaner supply on hand of the products it uses.
With replenishment of everyday items taken care of by Horizon, Rochester Gear has more time to focus on its operations.
The relationship also helps improve efficiency and productivity at Rochester Gear because Horizon specialists are able to introduce updated tooling and services that are beneficial to the manufacturer.
Executive of the Year
Vance Metal Fabricators
After so many years in business, one might expect that Joseph Hennessy, president and chief executive officer of Vance Metal Fabricators in Geneva is content to rest on his laurels. Yet, he constantly strives to do what he thinks is best for everyone.
“I try not to compare our business to others,” Hennessy says. “We just try to do the right thing.”
His employee-owned business is a large-capacity metal fabricator and weld shop serving diverse industries from heavy manufacturing to technology to agriculture. He joined the firm nearly four decades ago, when it only had eight employees. Despite a more challenging economic environment, he has continued to grow the business.
Today, Vance Metal Fabricators relies on a skilled workforce of 70 to get the job done, and Hennessy goes out of his way to keep them happy. “We are employee-centric and have a philosophy of ‘work hard, play hard,’” says Patrick Farrington, the firm’s sales and marketing manager. “The philosophy is driven by Joe, and this has led to unparalleled success for the company.”
Hennessy constantly looks for ways to improve his firm. In 2008, for example, he led a transition that resulted in the company being run as an employee stock ownership plan. “It was for the betterment of the company and his employees,” Farrington says. “Joe has been instrumental in leading us in numerous endeavors and positioned us well for future success as we look to grow our business.”
Hennessy also continues to inspire his employees to be good caretakers of his hometown, emphasizing the importance of giving back to others. Throughout the years, he has joined with his employees to donate significant amounts of time and money to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva, The Salvation Army and United Way, among countless other charitable groups.
“Investing in his employees and community is a way of life for Joe,” Farrington says.
Optimax Systems Inc.
As president of Optimax Systems Inc., Michael Mandina is known as a prominent leader in the photonics industry. At the same time, he is a champion of education, spending his free time helping to inspire students living in Rochester.
A manufacturer of precision lenses, Optimax has blossomed under Mandina’s leadership and now occupies a 60,000-square-foot facility in Ontario, N.Y. The firm has 300 employees and is the nation’s largest optics prototype manufacturer.
“I have worked with great people who are responsible for the success I have been part of,” says Mandina, a master optician and entrepreneur who joined the company in 1991. “I did none of these things by myself.”
Under Mandina’s leadership, Optimax became a founding member of the Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturers Enterprise, an organization dedicated to increasing workforce development. He helped start the 5 Percent Pledge, which challenges employers to offer five temporary positions—for every 100 positions— for interns, high school students and the long-term unemployed to give them experience in advanced manufacturing. More information is at nyfame.org.
Mandina also pursues this goal while volunteering throughout the community. For example, he serves as an industry representative on the Monroe Community College Optics Department Industrial Advisory Committee, is a board member for Vertus Charter School for Young Men, and is an adviser for the optics program at East High School.
“I am beyond concerned about the state of the city and the educational system in the city,” Mandina says, wearing his heart on his sleeve. “These kids, especially minority males, are not in a position to be gainfully employed. By the time they get out of high school, very few of them are prepared for the working world. “We have a fundamental knowledge about how careers really are developed and the value of education and developing skills. This is one way we can make a difference.”
After nearly three decades on the job at JN White, the president and chief executive, Randy White, still seeks opportunities to distinguish his company from the competition. One way is through the firm’s “Advocating for the Customer” efforts, which have led to millions in capital investments in recent years.
JN White was founded in 1960 as a screen printer and is now a trusted manufacturer of graphic overlays, membrane switches and prime labels. Its products are used globally in many industries, such as consumer appliances, medical devices and the military.
White, who has led the company for 28 years, demonstrates his commitment to some 100 employees in multiple ways. He leads annual health care plan reviews to secure the best, most affordable plans for his employees. In addition, he holds company-wide educational sessions regarding the firm’s 401(k) and profit-sharing plans to inform those who work for him of the importance of planning for retirement.
“Randy does everything possible to keep a fully trained staff,” says Ken Boss, vice president of sales and marketing for the Perry-based company. “He reviews overtime reports on a weekly basis and speaks to department managers about adding new staff when appropriate. These efforts ensure that employees are not stretched too thin and that quality products are shipping to customers.”
The company continues to pursue professional development opportunities, as well. In 2016, White reached out to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Quality and Applied Statistics to begin the process of adopting Lean Six Sigma principles.
“A skilled, educated and empowered workforce is critical to achieving our mission and vision,” White says. “The science of Lean Six Sigma equips an organization to alleviate bottlenecks, design effective systems and to use the right metrics to achieve the goals of world-class operations. We knew the investment in this process would pay substantial dividends in the future, and we’ve started to see the benefits.”
As a kid growing up in Connecticut, David Hallbach was always tinkering with things—natural for someone who was mechanically inclined, he says.
“I have always been drawn towards mechanical things. Growing up, I was always one of those kids who’d take everything apart and put it back together,” he remembered with a laugh. “I was able to mow the lawn at a young age, and it was my job to keep (the family tractor) running. So that got me turning wrenches and understanding electricity a little bit.”
That urge to tinker took him from the Constitution State to Rochester Institute of Technology to helping run CNC (computer numerical control) machining company Global Precision Industries as its quality manager.
“I heard the concepts in class (at RIT), but I didn’t grasp it until I was holding the parts here at the plant,” Hallbach says. “Over time, I built a knowledge and educated myself more and more. On the job training.”
Owners Mark Wheeler and Bob Nuccitelli Jr. started the business in 2005, and the company has expanded gradually from those small roots to occupying a 75,000-square-foot building on Millstead Way in Chili. Hallbach estimates that the plant has enough room to satisfy another five to 10 years of growth.
“Right now, we’re at about $4 million in sales, with an expectation to double that” in the next fiscal year, he says.
In the seven years since Hallbach and sales and marketing manager Andrew Prestigiacomo became the company’s first full-time employees, the pair has seen Global Precision grow from seven employees to 35 and the workload to match.
The majority of Hallbach’s work at GPI focuses on geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, or GD&T, which determines engineering tolerances. He’s proven adept enough at it that he now teaches the same course in GD&T as an adjunct professor that he took at RIT as a student.
“I know a few people there, and was talking with a tenured professor. I was telling him what I was getting for co-ops (from the college), and he (mentioned) the fact that there was a position opening up.”
He may have grown up in a different state, but Hallbach has put down roots in the community, eventually earning a master’s degree from RIT and celebrating the birth of his first child here this summer.
It’s not surprising, then, to hear Hallbach admit to having an emotional stake in the company.
“I’ve tried to treat the company like my own, and the owners have treated me like the same.”
He’s most proud of the niche the company has carved out by looking nationwide for contractors to work with. Examples he cites include making timing components for Subaru and Ford models. “We like to get out, get work and bring it back here to Rochester,” he says proudly. “We’re not waiting for Kodak and Xerox to come around.”
For decades, Nabil Nasr has been a leading mind both nationally and globally in the fields of sustainable manufacturing, remanufacturing, circular economy, clean production and sustainable product development.
Over the course of his illustrious career, Nasr’s expertise has benefited numerous national and international panels and forums. He has been an expert delegate with the U.S. government in several international forums, including the United Nations, World Trade Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. He has also been on the advisory board of the ResCoM Consortium and a member of the United Nations Environment Program’s International Resource Panel.
Nasr joined the faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology in 1989 as an assistant professor in the College of Engineering, and has been a key figure in making the school a worldwide leader in sustainable design and product development. In 1997, he founded RIT’s Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery, which is now considered a leading source of applied research and solutions in remanufacturing technologies.
Ten years later, Nasr became the founding director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at RIT, whose interdisciplinary academic and research programs focus on sustainable production systems. That same year, 2007, RIT admitted its first four Ph.D. students in the field of sustainability—one of the first Ph.D. programs of its kind in the world, and something for which Nasr had long been advocating.
Earlier this year, thanks to a proposal process led by Nasr, RIT was selected by the federal government to lead the REMADE (Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions in Materials Manufacturing) Institute—a consortium of 26 universities, 44 companies, seven labs and 26 industry trade associations and foundations aimed at finding more sustainable and efficient manufacturing solutions and reducing waste materials and emissions. With Nasr serving as chairman and CEO, REMADE will endeavor to drive down the cost of technologies needed to reuse, recycle and remanufacture things like metals, fibers, polymers and electric waste, while also improving energy efficiency by 50 percent over the next decade.
“The REMADE Institute is a huge boost for us,” Nasr said. “We could never dream of having a national institute in an area that we’re very active in that we’ve actually been doing a lot of work in for many years.”
Beyond his accomplishments in academia, though, Nasr is widely appreciated for maintaining strong ties with the manufacturing industry, and working closely with those in the field during his pursuits. Whether it’s putting on blue jeans and working on the lines at Kodak to get a better understanding of how materials could be salvaged, or simply bringing local company leaders to the table on his initiatives, Nasr has forged an approach to his work that gives manufacturing leaders and workers optimism for their future, while also looking out for a global environmental interest.
Kevin Kelley, chairman of the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association, has worked with Nasr for many years and said there are myriad reasons he should receive the Chairperson’s Award.
“It’s his collaborative spirit, it’s his expertise in manufacturing and the significant expertise represented by the people he’s gathered at RIT,” Kelley said. “He has been a great advocate for manufacturing not just regionally, but domestically and internationally.”