The inaugural Technology and Manufacturing Awards, a collaboration between the Rochester Business Journal and the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association, or RTMA, celebrated the best and brightest in Rochester’s diverse tech landscape. Amid a packed ballroom at downtown’s Hyatt Regency, industry leaders lunched as nine competitors took home awards.
Introducing the awards were RBJ’s editor Ben Jacobs, publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, RTMA executive director Kevin Kelley and state Sen. Joe Robach, R-Greece.
“Manufacturing is perceived as a fading star in the economic cosmos,” Kelley said. “But these are jobs that are critically important, and that’s why we’re here today, to celebrate the innovation happening in our own community.”
The Award for manufacturing innovation at a company with more than 100 employees went to CooperVision. Based in Scottsville, the contact lens company’s manufacturing hub may have sat in the same location for the past 80 years, but the company’s approach to business and production has done anything but stagnate. Between 2013 and 2016, CooperVision has quickly transitioned from a 100 percent manual manufacturing firm to 51 percent automated.
“As we go towards automation, lots of different factors are in there,” said CooperVision director of engineering Bob Ooyama. “How do we make the work safer for our employees and also carry that quality as we come through?”
CooperVision has found a way to do so. After introducing automation, productivity rose 92 percent and output shot up 54 percent. With plans to stick to its suburban hub, CooperVision aims at continuing to expand, planning on making renovations and upgrades to the facility over the next few years.
Precision machining company Rochester Gear Inc. took home the award for manufacturing innovation in a company with less than 100 employees. Under the guidance of owners Anthony Fedor and Scott Caccamise, Rochester Gear, founded in 1925, has revamped their business model over the past 10 years, investing $2.675 million in transitioning to the production of precision gears for power tools, off-road vehicles, mixers, meat processors and a litany of other applications. It’s an initiative that has paid off. Under Fedor and Caccamise, the company has grown 67 percent, with sales per employee rising from $119,000 to $167,000.
“Rochester Gear is fortunate to have engineering and operator experience resulting in a strong commitment to quality,” Fedor said.
Coupled with this growth is an obvious improvement in quality. In 2016, the company saw return of defective parts at 196 per million. In 2007, that number was 1,582.
For workforce development in the manufacturing enterprise division, the award went to Optimation Technology. Based in Rush, the company has placed an emphasis on developing the next generation of workers via its apprenticeship program, a collaboration with Monroe Community College. The company offers 40-hour workweeks to students, including a five-year state-certified apprenticeship in electrical and pipefitting, and a four-year apprenticeship in millwright, welding and sheet metal. Since 2008, 18 students have graduated from the program as journeymen. Today, there are eight students enrolled, with a new class coming in at the end of summer.
For workforce development training in the training and support providers division, the award went to Monroe Community College’s Division of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Service. Using comprehensive data research and analysis in 100 manufacturing career fields, MCC has been able to maximize their impact on students and Rochester’s underserved community. Its accelerated Precision Tooling Certificate Program, aimed at underprivileged members of the Rochester community, has a 90 percent completion rate, with other programs aimed at advance machining, photonics and other cutting-edge industries. In 2016, the program held over 700 students, 179 of whom were in advanced manufacturing.
“We are committed to an innovative and data-driven approach to economic and workforce development at MCC,” said Todd Oldham, vice president of the department. “Aligning programs to local labor market analysis ensures our solution will reach workforce needs.”
The Award for powerful partnership went to Panther Graphics and Edison Career and Technology High School. With a program spearheaded by Edison alum and Panther owner and President Tony Jackson, Panther offers a chance for high school students to get hands on training in the world of printing. In the fall, students are granted the opportunity to take part in a co-op, giving them training and skills relevant in a professional workplace and serves as a catalyst for developing their careers after high school.
Taking home the award for executive of the year was Michael Mandina, President of Optimax Systems Inc. A leading innovator in the blooming photonics industry, Mandina is a professional with an emphasis on development, growth and serving his community. Mandina serves on the board of Monroe Community College Optics Department Industrial Advisory Committee, a program which helps place students into careers in optics following graduation, as well as an adviser to East High’s optics program and a board member of Vertus Charter School for Young Men.
“We have a fundamental knowledge about how careers really are developed and the value of education and developing skills,” Mandina said. “This is one way we can make a difference.”
Under Mandina’s guidance, Optimax also became a founding member of the Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturers Enterprise.
The Awards also honored two individuals on opposite ends of the career-life spectrum. David Hallbach of Global Precisions Industries received the “rising star” award. As a young professional, Hallbach quickly moved up the chain at GPI, and is now in charge of virtually every aspect of the company’s operations. During his time at GPI, he also achieved his masters, and now teaches night classes at RIT.
Nabil Nasr, meanwhile, took home the chairperson’s award. The founding director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Nasr has been with the school since 1989, starting as an associate professor. In the past nearly 30 years, Nasr has had a striking impact on the community, including being chosen by the federal government to lead the Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions in Materials Manufacuring (REMADE) Institute; a collection of 26 universities, 44 companies, seven labs and 26 industry trade associations.
“It’s his collaborative spirit, it’s his expertise in manufacturing and the significant expertise represented by the people he’s gathered at RIT,” said Kelley, who’s worked with Nasr for many years. “He has been a great advocate for manufacturing, not just regionally, but domestically and internationally.”