Syracuse Community Health: Providing High-Quality Care for All

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By: Elizabeth Landry

When Mark Hall was a child living in Mulberry Square housing along with his parents and several siblings, his family often came to the nearby Syracuse Community Health Center at 819 South Salina Street in Syracuse for their medical needs. He remembers coming to the center for dental services, pediatrics and related care. In March 2018, Hall returned to the health center he used to visit as a child, but this time he took on the role of interim President and CEO, roles which he eventually took over full time in 2019.

“My commitment to the health center and my relationship with the health center go back to when I was a child. It didn’t take much for me to decide that I wanted to come back to Syracuse Community Health. Ever since I was a child, the health center has been part of my life and part of my family, and that’s when my passion for its mission began. I know first-hand what the health center means to families who might not otherwise have access to health care,” said Hall.

Today, the health center in the heart of Syracuse is known as Syracuse Community Health, and Hall has been leading an initiative to expand, improve and revitalize the center’s buildings that are spread throughout Onondaga County. The health center’s locations include the original building at 819 South Salina Street, additional buildings on East Fayette Street and Oswego Street, care centers within several schools in Syracuse and a brand-new building opening soon at 930 South Salina Street, which is kitty-corner to the original building. Through each of these locations, Syracuse Community Health serves as a “one-stop shop” for patients, providing everything from primary care, pediatrics, dentistry, OB/gyn,

 podiatry and eye care/eye wear to women’s health, radiology, lab, urgent care, psychiatric and addiction services, pharmacy and care management services.

Serving Patients as a Federally Qualified Health Center

Originating in the 1960s as the Neighborhood Health Center, Syracuse Community Health has evolved over many decades to continue to meet the needs of patients in the central New York community. In 1978, the health

 center was designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, a status that remains at the center of its functions today.

FQHCs are different from other health care centers because they receive federal funding in order to meet the needs of under-served populations in economically depressed areas.

“The intention of the FQHC legislation was to address many of the problems that were brought to the surface during the 1960s. There was a lot of social unrest within the black community specifically, intertwined with violence and a lot of unemployment.

“These issues were spread throughout the country, and they also affected Syracuse. FQHCs were born out of the desire to address many of these social and economic issues,” Hall explained.

It’s important to note that Syracuse Community Health, like all other FQHCs, is not a free clinic. Syracuse Community Health has an obligation to provide services for any patient who seeks health care within its facilities, and there is a sliding fee scale for all patients based on income. However, care could be provided for free if a patient has no or very low income. Additionally, although Syracuse Community Health traditionally treats an inner-city patient population that is low-income, under-insured and under-employed, the health center also has a segment of more commercial patients who receive Medicaid.

Since Syracuse Community Health receives patients from many walks of life within central New York, it will not turn any patient away, Hall emphasized how the health center has become an important pillar within the community.

“We serve all of Onondaga County, and anybody can come to Syracuse Community Health. There’s a common misconception that poverty only exists in the city, but we have the same problem in the suburbs and rural areas. Poverty is not limited to a race of people or a segment of people, but rather it’s a problem that our country must deal with. The mission of the health center has always been to ensure that everyone has access to care as we address the many social determinants of health, from lack of food and unemployment to transportation, childcare needs and even violence,” said Hall.

Revitalizing Through State-of-the-Art Design

A major way the leadership at Syracuse Community Health is continuing to fulfill the mission of the organization is by revitalizing and modernizing the health center’s buildings, including the brand-new construction located at 930 South Salina Street. Deemed the “930 Project,” the new $25 million site includes 56,000 square feet and will open to patients in September. Located within convenient walking distance to the original building, Hall emphasized how this new location offers ample space for patient exam rooms, provides an open, inviting atmosphere and maintains a more seamless patient experience.
“When I came on board at Syracuse Community Health, a renovation of the original building at 819 South Salina Street was being planned, but I changed that immediately,” he said. “New construction was the best decision simply based on the flexibility of designing a new layout.

“We’re able to see more patients in the new building, which has 38,000 square feet of patient-seen space versus the original building, which has 78,000 square feet. Additionally, if we were to renovate the original building, it would have caused a lot of problems. If you’re renovating existing space and having patients come in daily, parts of the building would be sealed off and wayfinding could change daily and sometimes hourly, making it difficult for patients.”

Along with a layout that makes the best use of the space, the new building features a state-of-the-art design that focuses on energy efficiency. Forty geo-thermal wells that run 200 feet beneath the parking lot will be used to heat and cool the premises year-round. The building is also net-zero-ready, with accommodations for future installation of solar panels that would produce a net-zero carbon footprint.

More than anything else, however, the construction of the new building is aimed at providing a calming, healing atmosphere for the patients who come through the doors. Numerous windows and sky lights flood the space with natural light and artwork by local artists will hang on the walls, creating a beautiful, aesthetic experience for patients that Hall likens to that of a spa.

“We’re really excited about the design – it’s a very inviting space,” Hall said. “There’s so much natural light coming to all four sides of the building. This will create a healing atmosphere within the health center, and the crown jewel will be our women’s mammography center. It’s an absolutely beautiful space that literally looks like a spa. There has been much talk within the healthcare industry on healthcare equity and social determinants of health. At Syracuse Community Health, we’re really taking the steps to make health care available to patients who would not normally have the economic means to take advantage of a high-end spa. The space in the women’s mammography center does exactly that, and we’re really proud of how it all turned out. When considering the design for the new building, we really wanted to drive home the point that people who come to the health center are deserving of quality health care within a quality setting.”

Planning for the Future with New Leadership

Looking beyond the new building and into the future for Syracuse Community Health, additional changes will be coming to further enhance the ability of the health center to serve more patients.

Plans to begin a family medicine residency program in July 2024 will allow the organization to become a teaching health center. With many practitioners choosing to specialize in specific areas of medicine, a high demand for primary care providers has developed. The planned “4-4-4” residency program will bring a new group of four primary care practitioners to Syracuse Community Health each year over a period of three years, opening the health center up to many learning opportunities and resources that will benefit both the providers and the patients.

Perhaps the most significant change coming to Syracuse Community Health in the near-term, however, is new leadership to continue the mission of the health center. Over the next few months, Mark Hall will be passing the baton to Keith Cuttler, who will be taking over as Interim President and CEO of Syracuse Community Health. With more than 34 years of experience in health care, Cuttler came to Syracuse Community Health two years ago as both the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Business Development Officer. He took over these roles after serving as the President and CEO of the East Hill Medical Center in Auburn for several years, a health care center that also shares the designation of being an FQHC.

One of the main reasons Cuttler decided to come to Syracuse Community Health is because of the exciting new construction taking place. “The new building is a bright, extremely well-laid-out, open-concept, state-of-the-art medical center. One of my frustrations with the health care system that I’ve witnessed over my three-plus decades involved is that those who are of a lower socio-economic class than others are often relegated to less than desirable environments and medical equipment. To me, this project is a tremendous opportunity to shake that off and provide our population with access to a new, clean facility that offers updated equipment and the same great staff in a beautiful facility that has light pouring into it. I think folks who start receiving care in this facility are going to be blown away when they walk in. Many, I would imagine, are going to quietly feel that they don’t deserve this, but in fact, they absolutely do. Taking over the build of this project from Mark has been one of the most fulfilling projects of my entire career,” he said.

As he steps into this new role, Cuttler also plans to advance the efforts that Hall has begun to expand the reach of Syracuse Community Health beyond its immediate urban site and out into suburban and even rural areas, where patients are also in need of affordable, accessible, quality healthcare.

“FQHCs like Syracuse Community Health have a first and foremost mission to provide access to the under-served populations in their communities, but they aren’t limited to treating only that population. We have patients that come from other counties to see us,” Cuttler said.

“I think we’re really going to shed a new light on what Syracuse Community Health is and what it’s becoming, and that is a state-of-the-art health center for everyone, not just the adjacent communities that we will always be committed to serving.

“We’re looking forward to providing anyone who comes to Syracuse Community Health with outstanding care in a really great environment for many years to come.”

New York State’s Empire State DevelopmentConducting MWBE Disparity Study

By: Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

New York State’s Empire State Development (ESD) is conducting a Disparity Study (study) to determine whether there is disparity between the use of minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE) and the availability of those firms throughout upstate New York (state).  Through the collection of qualit ative or anecdotal data, the Study seeks to determine if there is evidence of discrimination in the various geographic regions of upstate New York in which the State is the construction project owner.

In addition, the Study will look to determine the effects of race, ethnicity, and gender on businesses’ ability to do business with the State, acquire capital or bonding and win contracts or subcontracts in the markets in which the State does business. The Study will determine if there are barriers preventing diverse businesses from working with the State or the State’s prime vendors and identify how processes could be more accessible and inclusive for all businesses.

ESD conducted a similar Study in 2015, which was released in 2016. ESD’s 2015 Request for Proposal stated in part that its purpose was, “increasing participation of MWBEs on State’s contracts” among others, although the Study did not identify any New York State procurement discrimination during the 5-year period examined. Consistent with the 2015 RFP, some construction industry leaders concluded the Study assumed discrimination, and did not attempt to evaluate whether:

• Discrimination connected with any specific contract/subcontractor award had occurred;

• The actions of any agency, state employee or contractor were discriminatory;

• Lenders, sureties or insurers engaged in discrimination.

The 2016 Study concluded that a disparity in fact existed throughout upstate New York, which may lead one to conclude that the State had been discriminatory in their contract awards on public projects. The Study also concluded that 53.05% of available prime construction contractors, and 53.48% of available subcontractors, were certified MWBE employers. As a result, the State subsequently adopted a 30% MWBE goal on public work projects throughout upstate New York.

Today, ESD is conducting another Study for the construction industry. During my September 2023 interview with Brian Ansari & Associates, Inc., regarding ESD’s new Study, I challenged the interviewer to consider the questionable outcomes of the 2016 Study and those factors used by the 2015 vendor to reach those conclusions.

Additionally, I shared with the interviewer my opinion on the uniform 30% MWBE goals throughout upstate New York, as such a disparity throughout the region is not possible. While one may argue a 30% disparity exists in Monroe County and/or Onondaga County, the same disparity percentage may not exist in Lewis County or St. Lawrence County. To determine whether a disparity exists, such needs to be studied individually by region for the reason above.

MWBE capacity varies by region, and while the Syracuse Builders Exchange continues our efforts to build MWBE capacity in the central New York region via our Construction Company Growth Accelerator program, MWBE Showcase, and new mentorship program, there still remains challenges with the availability of certified contractors to bid and self-perform on public work projects.

Discrimination of any form has no place in society and is strongly opposed by industry leaders and others engaged in the construction industry. Fair, ethical, responsible and competitive bidding on private and public projects is vital to upholding the integrity of the bidding process and the contract awards thereof.

Upstate New York construction industry associations, industry leaders, contractors and elected officials should work collaboratively to address any disparities that may exist in particular regions of New York and develop solutions to address such disparities. Simply applying a uniform percentage for public projects is doing a disservice to all legitimate contractors.

I am excited to see the results of the 2023 Study and remain hopeful the disparities identified in the 2016 Study have decreased significantly or have been eliminated. While I am not optimistic elected officials will see the benefits of performing individual disparity studies in regions of New York, I remain optimistic that efforts to eliminate disparities in all industries will continue until such time none exist.


Structured Routines for Operational Excellence and Daily Continuous Improvement

By: James A. D’Agostino, CEO, MEP Center Director

In an era of rapid technological advancement, the manufacturing industry is undergoing a transformation that is changing the way businesses operate. One of the key drivers of this transformation is automation. Manufacturers who invest in automation are not only staying competitive but also reaping numerous benefits that can have a profound impact on their bottom line and long-term success. In addition to enhanced productivity and efficiency, there are a number of compelling reasons why manufacturers should embrace automation as an essential component of their operations.

Skilled Workforce Augmentation: Contrary to the misconception that automation eliminates jobs, it can enhance the roles of human workers. Automation can take over repetitive and physically demanding tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more valuable and creative aspects of their jobs, such as problem-solving, innovation, and process optimization. This augmentation of the workforce can lead to higher job satisfaction and a more skilled and adaptable workforce. Also, with the ongoing workforce shortage, automation can help to fill critical resource gaps.

Cost Reduction: While the initial investment in automation technology may seem substantial, the long-term savings are significant. Automation leads to productivity improvements, optimized resource usage, minimized material waste, and lower energy consumption, all of which contribute to impactful cost reductions over time. Also, as we have discussed in recent articles, there are lucrative sources of funding for capital equipment.

Global Competitiveness: In an increasingly globalized marketplace, staying competitive is a constant challenge. Manufacturers that invest in automation are better positioned to compete on a global scale. Automated processes can sometimes operate 24/7, providing the capacity to meet international demand and scale production as needed. This scalability is a crucial advantage when competing with companies from around the world.

Flexibility and Adaptability: Modern automation systems are highly flexible and adaptable to changing production needs. Unlike fixed assembly lines that require extensive reconfiguration to accommodate new products or processes, automated systems can be reprogrammed or reconfigured relatively easily. This flexibility allows manufacturers to respond quickly to market shifts and customer demands, enabling them to stay relevant and competitive in a dynamic business environment.

Data-Driven Insights: Automation generates a wealth of data about production processes, product quality, and equipment performance. This data can be captured for real-time monitoring and analysis. Manufacturers can use this information to identify bottlenecks, optimize processes, and make data-driven decisions to improve overall efficiency and productivity. Furthermore, predictive maintenance can be employed to prevent equipment breakdowns, reducing downtime and associated costs.

Improved Quality Control: Quality control is paramount in manufacturing. Automation can contribute significantly to achieving consistent product quality. Automated systems are programmed to adhere to strict quality standards, ensuring that each product meets the required specifications. By reducing human errors and variability, manufacturers can minimize defects and the associated costs of rework or recalls.

Enhanced Safety: Safety is critical, and automation can be used to handle tasks that are dangerous or pose health risks to employees. By automating such tasks, manufacturers can create a safer work environment, reduce workplace accidents, and minimize workers’ compensation claims.

Environmental Benefits: Automation can contribute to a more sustainable manufacturing industry. By optimizing resource use, minimizing waste, and reducing energy consumption, automated processes have a smaller environmental footprint compared to traditional manufacturing methods. This not only benefits the planet but also aligns with the growing demand for eco-friendly products and practices among consumers.

Manufacturers who invest in automation can unlock a plethora of benefits that can transform their operations. From increased productivity and quality control to cost savings and environmental sustainability, the advantages of automation are compelling. Embracing automation is not a matter of if, but when, for manufacturers looking to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of modern manufacturing. Those who hesitate risk falling behind in an industry that is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.

If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and would like to further the discussion, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation.

The Best Practices of Financial Planning …And Why They Aren’t as Complex as You Think They Are.

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, President & Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

We have all heard of the KISS acronym; “Keep It Simple Smarty Pants!” as Ted Lasso so eloquently put it.  You see, the world only continues to grow more complex, and managing our personal finances is no exception;  however, at the root, there are many basic foundations we can apply that stand the test of time.  This is not to suggest that all things in our planning are simple, but if you remember some simple core concepts, you can do pretty well. We all have heard the Financial Talking Heads talk about things like “save more, spend less,” “create a budget,” “invest,” blah, blah, blah.  They all seem to say the same thing.  These might hit a little differently: 
• Use debt as an asset, but smartly:  If you have a good credit score, it may be in part because you have already done this.  Do not be afraid to use debt as an asset.  My favorite example is buying a home.  You can certainly go overboard and make yourself house poor;  however, before you make it your goal to pay off your house, ask why that is your goal.  Using debt to finance your home allows you to leverage free cash flow and other assets for investments to hopefully, over time, outperform the interest you are paying the bank.  Other financial professionals can be anti-debt.  I say use it smartly; it is okay.
• Start saving early: We have all probably seen or heard this and have even seen it illustrated.  If you start saving today for the next ten years and then stopped, you will have the same or more 30 years from now as if you started saving 10 years from now and saved the same amount for the next 20 years after that.  Compound earnings are one of the most powerful financial forces in the universe.
• Invest with a purpose, and it is usually not to maximize returns: The investing world has only become more accessible to the everyday person.  And it seems that we are all chasing the big win.  I implore you to have a different approach.  When you hear of everyone’s big wins, notice what you are not hearing about are their big losses.  So please, invest with a purpose in mind.  This means having a plan and your plan should not be maximizing returns.  You should be investing for adequate returns to support the achievement of a goal.  If you constantly aim for the highest return, you will likely take more risk than you should and likely end up with some big losses along the way, some that you may never be able to recover from. 
• Save more than you think: I am telling you that you need to save more for your future than you think you do.  This is pretty common advice, but people are living longer, and they want flexibility earlier in life.  Saving earlier will allow for that flexibility.
• Live for today, plan for tomorrow: A mentor taught me this early in my career and it has stuck with me.  We can get overly consumed with saving for a future that may never come.  Make sure you enjoy today, while still adequately planning for tomorrow.  It is all about balance.
Coming from someone who makes a living helping people in this area, it would seem I am writing myself out of a job.  That is not the case.  These are just some basics that everyone can use to get started and fall back on when things get more complex.  When the moment is right, seek help from a qualified professional, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t… 
Keep It Simple Smarty Pants! 

Tetris Anyone?

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

We are entering an exciting time of the year with emphasis on family, holidays and camaraderie with friends and coworkers. At the same time, it can be a very stressful time as we approach year-end results and forward planning. Additionally, most of us are feeling bombarded with a steady stream of negative news and social discourse that at times make the world feel upside-down. The perfect time to change our thinking about how we define and achieve happiness.

Last quarter, I shared some valuable insight I had gained from several sources, particularly from Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, about the effects of happiness on one’s self as well as on an entire enterprise. I also shared some startling statistics about how few employees feel happy and fulfilled at their jobs. The solution, it turns out, is changing our view of “the chicken or the egg.” By that I mean most business leaders and productivity pundits advise us that if we just work harder, we will achieve happiness. That is, thinking of happiness as a goal. In fact, the science of positive psychology has proven that it’s the other way around: Happiness is actually the catalyst that allows our brains to achieve goals—often incredible goals. This was eye-opening. Consider the various results of scientific studies of achieving a “positive brain”:

• Students do better on tests
• Employees do better at work
• Improves brain health
• Increases energy by up to 31%
• Decreases heart disease by up to 30%
• Decreases fatigue-related symptoms by up to 23%
• Reduces the chance of depression by up to 31%

This isn’t about irrational optimism. It turns out that we are not born with a predetermined positive or negative mindset. Neuroscience has shown us that our brain can change at any age. This was underscored by reading about Tetris. For those unfamiliar with Tetris, it is a game where four kinds of shapes fall from the top of the screen and the player works to arrange the shapes in a way to create an unbroken horizon line. And it’s addictive.

In a Harvard Medical School study, Tetris players played for multiple hours a day for three days in a row. Even after they stopped, their minds continued to see shapes everywhere—in the supermarket, sidewalks, skylines—that they could not stop trying to assemble to fill in the “gaps.” This was dubbed the “Tetris Effect.”

What I learned was that the brain can be rewired in just a few days to achieve a positive mindset. Where we typically operate with a two-option view: Maintain the status quo (safety), or fail and lose (vulnerability), there is a third option: Embrace failing knowing it will help catapult us to success (positivity). The latter is what Achor calls “falling up.” He defines it this way: “In the midst of defeat, stress and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope and succeed. If our Tetris Effect is to view all that has or could go wrong, then that is all we see. If, on the other hand, our Tetris Effect is to see the opportunity in it, then suddenly we see many other options to fall upward. Our mindset can create blind spots, or it can expand our vision.

This led to my epiphany that if I and others could train our brains to continually see things through a positive lens and continually share our positivity and enthusiasm with others, we could create our own version of the Tetris Effect leading to better success, better employee engagement and better mental health. The great news is this is contagious, and you can leverage one of the most important elements; creating a strong social support network in your workplace.

We are just at the beginning of this journey but excited about how well people are attracted to this approach. We are clearly better together. As we build more champions of positivity, we individually and collectively become better—and happier—every day. That’s the goal.

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to solve business challenges.
I would love to hear your thoughts!

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 

In Pursuit of Happiness

By: Pierre Morrisseau, CEO, OneGroup

As business leaders facing new and evolving workforce challenges, we must focus on what research has been telling us for many years: Happiness at work increases productivity, creativity, and superior problem-solving abilities. It is also a solution for the attraction and retention of talent, which remains a high priority as most companies are working hard to find, develop and keep their employees. Easier said than done.

Consider these research statistics from data compiler, Gitnux:
• Worldwide, just 13% of employees reported being engaged at work.
• In the U.S., only 38% of employees reported being engaged at work.
• 56% of employees in the US feel that their employer is or could be doing more to prioritize happiness.
• 63% of employees believe that companies should offer mental health benefits.
With so few employees feeling engaged in their work, there appears to be a disconnect between employers and their employees. Our own internal surveys bear this out. These statistics are at direct odds with employers’ goals for hiring and retaining employees let alone employee productivity.

Why happiness in the workplace matters:

• Companies with happy employees outperform competition by 20%.
• 67% of employees say they are more productive when they are happy at work.
• Employees are 48% more likely to give excellent customer service if they’re happy at work.
• 60% of employees are attracted and stay at a company due to a better work-life balance.
• A happy employee is 31% more productive than an unhappy one.
• Employees who feel valued are 15 times more likely to report job satisfaction.

These statistics show that when employees feel fulfilled and happy in their work, their productivity increases significantly as does that of those around them. This points to the fact that investing in employee happiness is beneficial to both the employee and employer. We are acutely aware of the need to dramatically increase employee engagement and have undertaken a number of small- and large-scale initiatives to improve individual wellbeing and happiness. I will share this one significant effort in the hopes it might aid you in your own strategies.

For the second year following the pandemic, we closed all offices from Massachusetts to Florida and invited all employees to join us at the Turning Stone for a major event we dubbed Day of Learning. Actually, it turned into two days filled with events, breakout sessions, sidebars with various experts in finance, management, health, wellbeing and more. The entire focus was to show employees that they are important to themselves and to OneGroup. We planned the event around personal growth, fulfillment and achieving happiness—seeing the positive vs. the negative. Our post event surveys indicate we are truly moving the needle in the right direction.

Many of the concepts came from a book our management team recently read called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. His years of research into what happiness is and how one finds it is fascinating. At the heart of his work with humanity, the happiness formula is in reverse: that happiness leads to success and not the other way around. His research shows when you are happy, you see things in a positive light, you recognize opportunities and ultimately achieve greater success than those who are unhappy and negative. Achor posits societies instill a belief at an early age that happiness is your reward for success, but in fact, positive psychology research shows that happiness creates success.

We have taken this to heart at our company and although change is never easy, by focusing on happiness first, we are seeing steady improvement throughout the company as well as in our relationship with our clients.

Author Daniel Pink in his book Drive, explores motivation, a key element in achieving happiness. His message is that motivation today is acquired through autonomy, mastery and purpose—purpose over profit. He further recommends using a “now, that” method of rewarding vs. “if, then” (the historic carrot and stick process). He proposes approaching employees with: “Now that you’ve executed this work so well, you deserve a reward.”

There are many employee engagement ideas and processes for sure but the most important one is recognizing the importance of taking action—of beginning with achieving our own happiness in order to lead others.

As always, I am most interested in learning about what others are doing to solve business challenges. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The 3 Pieces of Secure Act 2.0 You Need to Consider NOW

By: Jason D. Nickerson, CFP®, EA, President & Chief Operating Officer, John G. Ullman & Associates

The Secure Act 2.0 clearly focuses on the belief that there is a real shortfall between what we have saved for retirement and what we need to have saved to retire. The new law has opened up some great opportunities for you to impact the financial decisions you have made in the past, influence decisions you can make now, and plan other decisions for the future. Here are the three key provisions you need to discuss with your advisor now to implement in your plan right away.
529 Conversion to Roth IRA 
You’ve done well in saving for your child’s college education utilizing a 529 plan. You have done so well that you have (or are projected to have) some left in the plan. In the past, we have typically talked to clients about what to do with those funds. Would you want to support your child’s advanced degree? What interest do you have in pursuing advanced personal education? What type of support would you want to give to grandchildren? Now, we can add a whole new layer of planning. What support would you want to give your child’s retirement savings? Under a new law, 529 assets can be converted by the beneficiary to a Roth IRA.
• Up to $35,000 can be converted from a 529 Plan to a Roth
• Tax-free growth in the Roth IRA
• It can be an early start for your child’s retirement savings.
• The conversion is taxable. You must pay tax on the accumulated earnings in the 529 when converted to the Roth.
• Limited to $35,000, lifetime
• The account must be open for 15 years.
• The conversion is subject to the annual Roth IRA contribution limits.
This is one of my favorite tax changes in recent years; however, there is much room for improvement. None of these thoughts should keep you from considering this opportunity now. Key areas that can be improved in future laws: 
•Eliminate taxation of the conversion. If the funds in the 529 would come out tax-free if used for education, they should be allowed to transfer to a Roth tax-free. As long as the Roth owner abides by the rules, the funds can come out tax-free.
•Eliminate the $35,000 limit, or change it to allow for more conversion.
Higher Catch-Up Contributions 
Most of us are probably already aware that when we reach the BIG 5-0, we get to make additional contributions to retirement plans. Hopefully, those of you reading are doing that now. In the new law, you need to take advantage of a major expansion of this concept. Starting in 2025, those between the ages of 60-63 can make even higher catch-up contributions of $10,000.
The law is recognizing that we either need or want to work longer. We can supercharge our retirement savings in those later working years.
None. As an advisor, one of my key objectives with clients is to get them to save more money. 
I would like to see the age decrease to 50, like the current catch-up rules. I don’t see the magic of 60-63. We know how this math works. The earlier you save, the more compound earnings can work for you.
Required Distribution Age increased 
The age for required distributions from retirement plans was increased in 2023 to age 73. That age will further increase in 2033 to age 75.
More tax-deferred growth and more opportunity for tax planning opportunities around required distributions
Nothing comes to mind at the moment. Remember, these are required distributions we are talking about. You are still able to access funds at 59 1/2.
If people are working longer, then this change supports that by not requiring distributions until the later years. I think pre-retirees can now plan to save money in other ways (not in tax-deferred plans with a required distribution) to support cash flow if they retire before RMD age.
As you can see, this new law has been really focused on retirement savings. This article touches on three of the key provisions that can benefit your overall financial plan. If you want to learn more about these and how you might be able to implement them, join my free webinar on July 20th at noon for a little “lunch and learn.” Visit to register.

What Our Customers Can Teach Us About Supplier Management

By: Don Lynch, Senior Project Manager, TDO

Are you struggling with increased component lead times, price increases, and quality issues? You’re not alone.  The COVID-19 pandemic has caused interruptions in staffing all over the world.  This has led to late supplier deliveries, increased commodity prices, and unpredictable transit times.  Some of these supply challenges are trending back toward pre-pandemic levels, but many challenges remain.
So, what can we do to improve the performance and predictability of our suppliers?  The answer will depend on each business’s unique needs; however, there may be a rich source of ideas within our midst. Please think for a moment about what makes a great customer.  Your list may be different than mine, but here are some of the things that have defined great customer relationships for me:
1. Clearly documented requirements.
2. Predictable demand.
3. Few expedite requests.
4. Collaborative approach to resolve delivery and quality issues.
5. On-time invoice payment.
6. Opportunities to win new business.
These attributes create and maintain relationships that are built on openness, collaboration, and trust.  Great customers not only allow our businesses to grow in revenue and profitability, but they also help us to improve our operations so that we can become even more competitive.  Keeping in mind that every buy-sell relationship has a customer and a supplier, how do your suppliers perceive you as a customer?
• Do our purchase orders and specification documents clearly provide all the information that your supplier needs to meet your expectations?
• Is our component demand predictable?
• Do we often ask suppliers to deliver within their stated lead times?
• How do we engage with suppliers to resolve delivery and quality issues?
• Do we pay our invoices on time?
• Do we invite our best suppliers to help us develop new products and services?
If great customers can help our businesses grow in revenue and profitability, are there similar opportunities with our suppliers?  Can our suppliers’ expertise help us become a great customer?  Will becoming a great customer help improve our suppliers’ performance?
This all sounds nice, but what about getting the best (lowest) price?  My list defining a great customer doesn’t include paying more than other customers.  Great customers want best-in-market value from their suppliers.  This helps them earn acceptable margins so that they can continue to make investments to innovate, improve, and grow.  We want the same thing for our businesses, and so do our suppliers.
Being a great customer doesn’t mean that you pay more than best-in-market value for products and services.  Instead, investing in supplier relationships can lead to maintaining best-in-market value while fully leveraging our suppliers’ capabilities to help us improve. Are you less than satisfied with your suppliers?  Consider asking yourself how becoming a great customer may improve their performance.
If you are a small or mid-size manufacturer and would like to further the discussion, TDO’s team is fully certified to help. Reach out today to learn more and schedule a free consultation!

Construction Career Aspirations Are Achievable

By: Earl Hall, Executive Director, Syracuse Builders Exchange

Long before governmental entities began to focus on “inclusivity” and other “workforce development” initiatives targeting minority, women and “disadvantaged” groups of people who may not have had a presence in particular segments of the economy, construction industry employers have tried for decades to include all people into the industry, including immigrants.
The United States of America provides all people equal opportunity to participate in the economy, including the regional construction industry.  Determination, self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed are human attributes necessary to be successful in life and business.  Gul Ahmad Hamidi is an example of how an Afghanistan immigrant successfully entered the local workforce and pursued a career in the construction industry.
Hamidi was born in Afghanistan, earned a degree in Civil Engineering in New Delhi, India, and was a civil engineer and a construction project manager in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  While his career accomplishments were impressive and his future full of opportunities, it all ended on August 31, 2021, when he escaped Afghanistan on a United States military C-17 cargo plane, leaving his family behind.  
As an interpreter for the United States military, Hamidi was taken by the United States military and hidden for the month of August, before being rushed to one of the final C-17 cargo planes leaving Afghanistan.  While on board, he assisted pilots by communicating important instructions and information to those on the plane, which was headed for Germany.  Hamidi would spend the next several months at United States military bases in Germany and in Philadelphia, preparing to begin his new life in the United States.
In March of 2022, InterFaith Works of Central New York introduced Hamidi to me via an email.  He expressed a strong interest in working in the construction industry as a project manager.  After meeting Hamidi during two different interviews, it was apparent that he had all the characteristics necessary to not only become a successful employee, but a productive member of society as he embraced the United States’ way of life, freedom, and culture.  
After interviewing with local construction companies and having nothing more than the clothes on his back and documents from the United States government, Hamidi was hired by one of the area’s premier general contractors.  Today, Hamidi is enjoying the infancy of his construction career and the many wonderful benefits of living in central New York.
Hamidi is a shining example of one’s ability to pursue the American dream by applying the human attributes necessary to be successful in life and in one’s career.  He escaped Afghanistan on the very last day before the Afghanistan government collapsed, now controlled by the Taliban.   Arriving in central New York with nothing, Hamidi today has a car, an apartment, clothes, and money to enjoy the many entertainment opportunities central New York has to offer.  He continues to send money back home to his parents in Afghanistan and saves money to someday own his own business or to buy a home.
Hamidi’s story reinforces the notion anyone can be successful in entering and participating in the construction workforce.  Being successful in a career is not a right – it is earned.  It is earned by self-motivation, hard work, perseverance, and the will to succeed.  Overcoming adversity is something most people experience at some point in life, whether it is personal or career.  
Hamidi’s story is compelling and is a prime example of how citizens in New York who really desire to enter the construction industry workforce can do so, if they have the drive and commitment to be successful in life and with their chosen career.