In this issue of Insights, we talk with Art Hamlin, director of economic development and corporate citizenship at National Grid (NG) and Joe Rizzo and Kyle Banks, manager of economic development and lead analyst of economic development, respectively, at New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E).
Art Hamlin has been an employee of NG for 29 years, with most of that time spent in positions connected, directly or indirectly, to the company’s economic development initiatives. These days, Art oversees all of NG’s economic development teams and grant programs within its U.S. service territories, including, since 2009, NG’s very successful Manufacturing Productivity Program (MPP).
Tell us about the MPP. Why did NG undertake this initiative?
Art: MPP was designed to help NG customers with productivity and efficiency, and there’s a natural connection there with our own energy efficiency priorities. Often, a customer who is interested enough to invest in lean manufacturing, let’s say, is also interested in hearing about our energy efficiency programs. By the same token, our energy efficiency team will, many times, introduce a customer to our MPP program. There’s a synergy there that serves our larger company. It also doesn’t hurt that our company is very focused on process excellence, so having a program like the MPP that supports customers doing lean manufacturing and other productivity work resonates with our own leadership. It’s a win-win, and, obviously, the most important thing is that it allows us to help a large number of customers.
What is your working relationship with Insyte?
Art: Insyte is one of the regional technology development centers we work with. We have a counterpart to Insyte in all major regions of our New York service territory, and we work with all of them to deliver the services that they provide to customers. Most commonly, that’s lean manufacturing. Our intent is to help customers get more efficient and productive to develop new capacity. Each of the RTDCs do their own impact measurement. So, they will survey manufacturers that utilize their services, and they will ask them about increases in sales, cost savings, the number of jobs they created or retained through the program, and the dollar value of that in terms of regional earnings. They help us measure impact.
How has MPP contributed to the creation or retention
of 3,000 jobs in Western New York?
Art: MPP is very holistic. We support lean manufacturing projects that, in turn, help a manufacturer free up capacity in their processes. We’ll also fund growth projects that help those companies use the capacity that they’ve freed up. What ends up happening is a company gets more efficient, and then they’ll do some work with growth projects to use that capacity and hopefully expand. You get job retention as part of the efficiency in productivity and then, in the longer term, you get job growth as those companies, now stronger, are able to invest in their operations.
What has surprised you about the program?
Art: Out of NG’s portfolio of a dozen or so economic development programs, MPP is our most active by far. We’ve provided 292 grants since 2009, and the total funding behind that is $3.8 million. Sixty percent of that total is in Western New York. So, when you look at the volume of projects that we’ve done, it’s obvious that the manufacturing economy is alive and well, even in upstate New York, where
I think there’s a common perception that it’s dying or that it has been restructured out of existence.
What are the characteristics of a successful MPP participant?
Art: The company’s top management has to be committed to doing lean manufacturing, and it’s not a one-off project. It has to be a culture of process excellence. We look for businesses whose top management is willing to commit the time and the resources to those kinds of projects. We’ve helped very small manufacturers and very large manufacturers, and that’s the common denominator: being really committed to process and productivity improvement.
What do you like best about the work you do with MPP?
Art: We are all in economic development because we want the region to thrive. And that can be because we want our own kids to have the opportunity to stay and work in upstate New York, or it can just be the fulfillment that comes from helping businesses and your community. And I think everyone who does economic development shares that sentiment. It’s very fulfilling to play a part in helping businesses grow and helping them increase employment in the region.
Do you have any advice for manufacturers thinking
of applying to the program?
Art: Reach out to Insyte. They are out there on the streets, just like we are. We have a really strong track record of getting projects done, in some cases multiple projects, over years with the same customer. This is not typically a one-off grant; it’s something that’s an evolution for a company.
Last year, NYSEG and RG&E launched the Manufacturing Accelerator Program (MAP) to support manufacturers looking to implement productivity improvement projects, growth initiatives, and other transformative business ventures. Joe and Kyle, longtime veterans of the companies, work closely to ensure MAP’s successful development and implementation. Here, they tell us about their work and what the program means for local manufacturers and the community at large.
First things first: what exactly is the Manufacturing Accelerator Program?
Joe: NYSEG and RG&E provide grants to eligible applicants whose leadership make commitments of time and resources to productivity improvement projects such as lean manufacturing, lean office procedures, waste reduction, ISO quality programs, and other projects that lower costs, improve quality, and reduce lead times. In addition, MAP can provide matching grants to fund growth-targeted activities such as new product development, export initiatives, sales and marketing system improvements, and other projects designed to increase revenue.
What objectives are you hoping to meet through MAP?
Joe: Our objectives include maximizing the use of our energy delivery assets, supporting the retention and expansion of existing businesses, attracting new businesses, and fostering a strong collaborative business relationship with our economic development partners at the local, regional, and state level. This overall effort helps our communities grow and prosper, creating a strong and healthy economy in New York.
Describe the ideal MAP grantee.
Kyle: The ideal manufacturing client is a small- to medium-sized manufacturing company within the RG&E or NYSEG service area that has a clear vision or strategy for its business needs in the short term as well as into the future. With that understanding, we work in partnership with organizations like Insyte to explore how our MAP can provide the most benefit to their business success.
How exactly do you work with Insyte to the benefit of the program and program participants?
Joe: Insyte plays a vital role in this program. It is one of many high-tech organizations in New York helping to market the program to the manufacturing community in its respective region. Insyte works with manufacturers to identify their specific business needs and makes recommendations to NYSEG and RG&E on the level of grant assistance to achieve positive results. We work very closely with Insyte to ensure that the program and process from start to finish are as streamlined as possible to make positive impressions on our customers while increasing their overall competitiveness.
What has most surprised you since launching MAP?
Kyle: The popularity of the program. We did not expect to receive half as many applications as we did in the first year alone. Seeing all the local manufacturers that are involved in amazing operations throughout the world gives us a great appreciation for the amount and variety of business we have in Western New York.
What challenges do you face in terms of ensuring MAP’s long-term success?
Joe: As with any new program, there is the anticipated participation rate. There is an ongoing influx of applications from some high-tech advocacy groups across New York. The challenge is ensuring that information about this program continues to reach manufacturers that are unaware of its existence.
What do you like best about the work you do?
Kyle: I like helping local businesses meet their potential goals. I like that our involvement could help a company reach its next level of their growth. We have an amazing opportunity to incentivize job creation and economic vitality.
Joe: I find it gratifying that our economic development programs are truly working for our communities and businesses across New York. To put things in perspective, since 2010, NYSEG and RG&E provided more than $90 million in economic development assistance to support more than 450 projects, leveraging over $4.4 billion in private sector and capital investments. In addition, NYSEG and RG&E have demonstrated great success in working with our economic development partners to attract new businesses to New York that had competitive alternatives outside the state and sometimes outside the country.