Adams Could Have A Future In Small Manufacturing

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Steve Melito addresses the latest session on economic growth sponsored by the Adams Anthony Center. The center has also held sessions on creative workspaces and general economic prospects.

ADAMS, Mass. – Adams may be focused on developing a cultural and recreational base, but its future still holds a place for manufacturing.

It's just that scale may be far different than the massive textile mills that once dominated the town.

"Large integrated facilities, large plants, people working in shifts ... various looms and machines; this model is dead for this area," startup consultant Richard Tavelli said at last week's presenation. "The big factories are not coming back."

Niche manufacturing was the focus of the Adams Anthony Center for Political, Economic, & Social Discourse's third presentation on the potential growth areas for the Mother Town. The session was held in the Grand Army Hall at the library, at which several speakers discussed the future for jobs in Adams as well as what local educators are doing to create skilled workers.

Tavelli, a North Adams native whose background includes private equity and entrepreneurship, said the future lies in small manufacturing, specialized manufacturing that creates components for larger manufacturing often utilizing technology.  

He highlighted businesses such as Shine Wire, a producer of high-tech custom cable assemblies that supply product to many different manufacturers throughout the country.

Shine Wire is able to sustain itself because it can provide a custom specific product to many different larger manufacturers. This allows them to continue to grow and create a more innovative product to meet the needs of their clients. Although not building entire products, it can provide a valued well-made product facilitated by innovation and a skilled workforce needed by large manufacturers.

"Pick any kind of manufacturer ... they aren't making the whole plane or car by themselves," he said. "They are dealing with subcontractors and people with specialized expertise and access to intellectual property and skilled manufacturing."

Travelli said Shine Wire is proof that small manufacturing can work in Adams.

"Niche manufacturing is the way to go. It is something realistic that can be and is in this town," he said. "It is something we should pay attention to when we develop our strategies for growth in the community."

Steve Melito, founder and owner of local business Thunderbolt Business Services, said Adams should position itself in a way to welcome "makers" who may develop their business into a larger manufacturing operation.

He said makers are artisans, inventors, and designers who often make specialty items from their homes or small work space. Some 135 million Americans are considered makers and many often bridge the gap and expand their business by connecting with manufacturing.

He said these makers often do not "speak the manufacturing language" and although they may have a great product, do not know how to get their product from their home to the assembly line.

He said if Adams could attract some of these makers who want to "scale up" by providing them with space, outside connections, and tech assistance that will help them achieve larger production.

"I think we could do this here in Adams," Melito said. "It is not something we could do ourselves but we could create useful places for folks to come and do what they do, but they are going to need help so Adams needs to be prepared to connect anything that anyone that wants to start a business with the resources that they need."

Jason Bassi, an Adams native and business development manager of the silicone division of GW Plastics in Vermont, explained how he went from golf course maintenance to manufacturing.

As a young person in Adams, he wanted to get far away from manufacturing that he felt was a dirty job, however, after eventually getting involved in a company that sold 3D printer technology to schools, he found manufacturing had drastically changed.

"It got me thinking that this could be done anywhere," Bassi said. "All you need is a machine, you need some software, you need a computer, and you can get into this field."

He said one GW Plastics facilities is in a converted dairy barn in a Royalton, Vt., a town of 2,000.

"They support a town and they support a region through manufacturing," he said. "They provide value and understand the market and what the niche is."

He said if Adams could provide the right environment and a skilled workforce, it could host a similar facility.  

Adams-Cheshire Regional School District Technology Director Mark Kline and Hoosac Valley High Principal Jerimiah Ames discussed what the school district is doing to provide an education that will create a skilled manufacturing workforce.

Kline said the school offers various math, science, and technology courses at all levels, however, the district also believes in creating well-rounded students who may also have a place in manufacturing.  

"We do a lot of work with helping students learn how to communicate well in addition to having a good understanding of a lot of different things," he said. "It is important to keep in mind that a student does not have to be totally focused on the tech side to have a role in manufacturing."

He added the Hoosac Valley collaborates with various companies such as General Dynamics and teachers are trained in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Ames echoed many of Kline's points but added that the job environment is very different then it was in the past and teachers often struggle when deciding how best to prepare students for a fluctuating job environment, especially in Berkshire County where many jobs are limited.

"Our primary goal for all of our students is to prepare them so they can do whatever they want to do when they leave, and ... my hope is that they will either stay or return to Berkshire County," Ames said. "But we don't really know where they are going, and we are trying to train them for jobs and we aren't sure what those jobs are going to look like."

He said to address this problem the Berkshire Compact for Education was formed out of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. The group has three subcommittees: an early education group focused on literacy, a secondary group focusing on preparing students for college or the work force, and a third focusing on internship opportunities in the county and job training.

Richard Tavelli says the new face of manufacturing in Adams is unlikely to look like the massive industries of the past.

Northern Berkshire Vocational School District Superintendent James Brosnan agreed with Ames that it is hard to keep graduates in Berkshires County. He added that local engineering and manufacturing internships are critical if Berkshire County wants to attract its students back.

There are still many manufacturing jobs in the county and part of McCann Technical's goal is to provide a quality workforce to replace those currently working in manufacturing when they retire, he said.

Manufacturing is vastly different than it was 50 years ago and McCann looks to provide students with needed machine and software skills needed to be competitive, Brosnan said.

"We have a remembrance of what we thought manufacturing was. It was good jobs, you stayed home, you could put 40 years in the company, and you ran a machine," he said. "Today's students in manufacturing and employees must work with software, designware, and manufacturingware while operating sophisticated equipment."

He added McCann is currently utilizing a STEM Council Grant to create a program that other schools and businesses can use to train and retrain employees.

He then lauded the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield that is being built to continue this focus of providing training and collaborative opportunities for manufacturing employees.

Smaller firms will be able to save money by sending employees to the center for training with employees from other firms, he said, and it will work as an incubator for startups and facilitate manufacturing training.

"The theory and the spirit of the Berkshires is we collaborate like we always have and we make sure we can be an effective player in manufacturing," Brosnan said. 

Tags: adams anthony,   economic development,   industry & manufacturing,   

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