TDO: 35 Years of Training for Manufacturing Success in CNY

By: Elizabeth Landry

Celebrating 35 years of support for local manufacturing businesses, TDO (Train, Develop,Optimize) is a not-for-profit in Central New York that provides coaching, consulting and training. The organization’s mission is to help local manufacturing and technology companies grow and prosper through operational excellence. TDO serves as the MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) center for the CNY region, which encompasses Madison, Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga and Oswego counties. With diverse talent on TDO’s team and a wealth of partners and resources, TDO can provide services to any kind of manufacturing company within the region, from aerospace and defense and precision machine shops to the food industry, medical device manufacturing and commercial manufacturers.

In the time since TDO was created in 1988, the specific needs of the varied manufacturers in CNY have evolved, and the organization has evolved alongside them in order to continue its mission. James A. D’Agostino, CEO and MEP Center Director at TDO, explained how the organization has changed over the decades while always remaining true to its focus on manufacturers.
“Over the years, TDO has evolved from an organization that focused mostly on training to an organization that is more all-encompassing in terms of consulting, coaching, training and being a conduit to resources in the community. I like to think that the TDO of today is very well-rounded with assisting manufacturers with their various needs. It really is the natural growth of the center,” he stated.
Productivity and Growth Assistance
When TDO helps a manufacturer optimize its productivity, there are many options that may best suit the manufacturer’s unique needs. Strategies include Kata coaching (a type of mindset-shift training and coaching aimed at better problem solving, scientific thinking, and daily continuous improvement), Lean Six Sigma training (strategies for waste reduction and project completion improvement) and other assistance with quality management systems, supply chain management, and health and safety systems.
D’Agostino expanded on the different strategies that are implemented based on each manufacturer’s goals. “We ask questions like, ‘Where does the company want to be over the next few years?’ and ‘What are their lofty goals?’ We then take those goals and work with managers, supervisors and technicians to break them down into bite-sized chunks and achievable target conditions we can help them strive for. Sometimes, that means we focus on training. Sometimes, training is an obstacle and we need to provide some type of Lean training or quality training to help achieve the next target condition that will ultimately help them get to their lofty goal. Sometimes, it requires us to do a formal, structured improvement event. There are a lot of ways we can help support manufacturers toward their productivity goals,” he said.
Similarly, TDO’s services aimed at manufacturing growth involve varied approaches based on each company’s individual needs. Lean Six Sigma training and coaching is necessary for more technical challenges. Many times, manufacturing companies want to become ISO 9001-certified or AS9100-certified, which are often required for the aerospace, defense and automotive industries, among others. To help achieve these goals, TDO’s team includes certified lead auditors who can guide manufacturers along the process for certifications that will then allow them to grow their businesses in meaningful ways.
Sometimes, manufacturers express a desire for improvement in areas that TDO’s team isn’t fully capable of supporting. In those instances, TDO relies on its robust network of partners and resources in the region. With partners who are sales and marketing strategists, brand experts, HR consultants, accountants and authorities on leadership development, among many other specialties, TDO offers connections with a wide range of support for the manufacturers they serve.
“We tell manufacturers that it doesn’t matter what the need is – if they have a question or need a resource, they can reach out to us. If their need doesn’t fall into TDO’s core competencies, we’ll find someone who can help,” D’Agostino emphasized.
Anti-consulting” Model for Documented Success
After TDO completes a project or a series of projects with a manufacturer, the manufacturer receives a third-party survey containing 10 questions aimed at measuring the efficacy of TDO’s services. The survey asks the manufacturer if TDO’s training helped them retain jobs, create jobs, retain sales or grow sales, make investments and save money. Based on aggregated survey results, TDO receives a quarterly report card with a score out of 100 total points. Over the last 17 quarters, a vast majority of TDO’s scores have been a perfect 100, and D’Agostino attributes this high level of success to what he terms the organization’s “anti-consulting” model that differs from the way traditional consulting firms operate.
“The unique thing about working with TDO is we’re unlike other consultants that can go in and do a job or a project and walk away regardless of actual results because they don’t really have any skin in the game, so to speak. That’s why consulting can sometimes get a bad reputation – employees see these high-paid consultants swoop in, shake things up and ultimately leave a mess,” D’Agostino explained. “We at TDO have skin in the game through the report card metrics. If we don’t deliver on whatever that scope of work is – if we don’t help them grow their business or be more productive – our report card will reflect that. We really have the ‘anti-consulting’ model in a lot of ways because of our well-documented and proven results. The report cards are a testament to the impactful nature of our work at TDO, creating jobs, sales, cost savings and investments.”
Along with the report card metrics, another aspect of TDO that contributes to the organization’s proven results and efficacy is the small yet incredibly talented and experienced team. With only seven full-time team members, TDO must remain extremely efficient and effective in its work to support the approximately 2,000 manufacturers in the five-county region it serves.
D’Agostino stated this need for efficiency is an important part of the “anti-consulting” model, as well. “We have to be very, very good at what we do for these manufacturers. We have to get them up and running, help them be more productive, grow as quickly as possible and make them self-sufficient so we can move onto the next manufacturer in our region who needs help. Most other consultants have an underlying personal goal of staying there with clients as long as possible in order to keep their revenue flowing, but it’s really the exact opposite at TDO,” he said.
Although the team at TDO is small, each staff member’s diverse talent and experience is crucial to the organization’s success. Prior to joining TDO in 2018, D’Agostino ran a high-volume automotive manufacturer for several years. Other team members have also held high-level professional roles in various capacities at manufacturing companies, such as plant managers, operations managers and general managers.
For D’Agostino, the wide range of skills and experience the TDO staff exhibits is what allows the organization to reach manufacturers on a human level and provide tangible support that matters most. “We love helping everyone from the company owners down to the technicians out on the floor. Sometimes that help means taking a phone call at nine o’clock at night because a business owner has nobody else to talk to and really wants to talk through decision-making strategy. I really pride myself on helping manufacturers, and it’s not just me – it’s the whole staff, because of our background and our professionalism. Everybody brings that same mission and assistance-type mindset to TDO’s work. We wouldn’t exist at TDO, and we wouldn’t be nearly as effective as we are, if it weren’t for our amazing staff,” said D’Agostino.
Connecting Manufacturers with Available Funding
One of the most important ways the TDO team supports local manufacturers is by helping them secure available funding through several sources. As the regional MEP for CNY, TDO has exclusive access to manufacturing funds through the two local utility companies, National Grid and NYSEG/RG&E, which are very lucrative grants ranging from 40-60% reimbursement for productivity and growth projects. 
Additional funding is available through the Workforce Development Institute (WDI), CNY Works, SUNY workforce grants, capital funds through Empire State Development, tax credits, and the list goes on. TDO has excellent relationships with contacts at these entities and can connect local manufacturers with the appropriate contacts and help guide them through the processes. Importantly, even if TDO can offer the services associated with the funding, manufacturers can choose to work with any consulting organization of their choosing, and TDO can simply serve as the connection to the funding.
When D’Agostino was leading a local automotive manufacturer several years ago, he never knew about TDO, nor did he know about the various funding opportunities available to manufacturers. Subsequently, he is very passionate about spreading awareness of the available funding in his role as CEO and MEP Center Director at TDO.
“I want folks to know that there’s money out there. If manufacturers are spending money on third-party resources, they should absolutely call TDO if they’d like some support. We serve as a conduit a lot of times, connecting manufacturers to the right folks and becoming a trusted advisor. We’ll make those warm introductions as necessary and coordinate meetings. It’s just another way we support manufacturers in our community,” said D’Agostino.
Preparing Manufacturers for the Future
Looking ahead to the next 35 years for TDO, the staff plans to continue carrying on the mission of the organization and spreading the word about the resources and funding that are available to manufacturers. “When people say that we’re the best kept secret, it’s a compliment, but it also shows we have a lot more work to do. There are still startups and mature organizations who are unaware of all that’s out there,” explained D’Agostino.
Additionally, D’Agostino hopes to help prepare manufacturers for the way the local technology landscape will change when Micron is established in the community. This change certainly presents new challenges for manufacturers, but it can also present new opportunities.
“All manufacturers need to prepare for the big Micron growth in the region,” he said. “Most are experiencing workforce shortages now, and that’s only going to accelerate when Micron starts its expansion. We’re starting to get manufacturers to think about ways they can automate, be more productive now and work on employee retention strategies by giving employees a reason why they would never think of leaving. We’re really trying to help manufacturers not get pushed to the sidelines and left behind.”
No matter how manufacturing continues to evolve in CNY, though, it’s certain that D’Agostino and the team at TDO will continue to be a trusted resource to help support manufacturers through it all. “We love what we do. Every one of us comes to work with a smile,” said D’Agostino. 
“We’ve made great relationships in the community, and it’s really rewarding to see the growth of the region and to know we were able to play a part in that.” Jim D’Agostino, CEO/MEP Center Director