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.