What’s Happening in Alaska Manufacturing

In this episode of The Faces of Business, Alyssa Shanks Rodrigues, PhD, Director, Alaska MEP, shares her insights on the current landscape of Alaska’s manufacturing sector to help us understand the unique opportunities and challenges it presents.

In this episode of The Faces of Business, Alyssa Shanks Rodrigues, PhD, Director, Alaska MEP, shares her insights on the current landscape of Alaska’s manufacturing sector to help us understand the unique opportunities and challenges it presents.

Dr. Alyssa stands tall as an industry leader with a deep-rooted commitment to the Alaskan manufacturing domain. Her accomplishments span significant contributions to the state’s economic growth, fostering innovation and elevating Alaska manufacturing. At Alaska MEP, her strategic leadership has been instrumental in forging sustainable manufacturing practices and promoting business excellence.

Understanding regional nuances becomes paramount for Alaskan manufacturing business owners navigating the growth phase. Alyssa’s insights offer a fresh perspective, tapping into the heart of Alaska’s manufacturing dynamics. Whether aiming for business scalability, navigating changing roles, or seeking a successful exit, Alyssa’s experience dealing with Alaska’s unique challenges could be the compass you need.

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The show commences with Damon’s electrifying energy. He is pleased to host Alyssa. He asks the guest about her journey to becoming the Director of the Alaska MEP.

Alyssa shares her nonlinear career journey, initially starting in forest management before transitioning to labor economics. Motivated to help people through intentional economic development, she leaped to work for the state. Her passion for sharing data led her to explore the field further, ultimately leading to her involvement with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).

Alyssa recounts her introduction to the MEP and seizing the opportunity when Alaska’s MEP found a new home at the university. She is committed to promoting Alaskan-made products, drawing attention to logos like the mother bear and cub, symbolizing products made at least 51% in the state. She officially joined the program on July 1, 2018, and has been dedicated to manufacturing growth in Alaska ever since.
Damon asks the guest about the initial things she learned at the MEP.

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Terming the question as “cool,” Alyssa describes the most fascinating aspect of Alaskan manufacturing for her, which is none other than its diversity. She shares her surprise at discovering the wide variety of products made in the state, noting her tendency to point them out everywhere she went. Despite having written an article on non-seafood manufacturing during her time in labor economics, Alyssa says that the real understanding of diversity came when looking beyond classification codes.

Moreover, the guest is pleased to meet the people behind these products, turning each discovery into a unique and fascinating story.

Damon, keenly interested, prompts Alyssa to share insights into the types of training the partnership offers.

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In response, Alyssa discusses the extensive training component at the Alaska State Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Specific sessions include sales training and hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) training. The HACCP training addresses product safety for food manufacturers. Alyssa mentions an upcoming 10-week export training program in January, both classroom-style and non-traditional training formats.

Similarly, Alaska MEP conducts on-site training sessions in lean manufacturing to optimize efficiency. Alyssa extends this concept to e-commerce, where businesses are not only assisted in website setup but also trained on messaging and consumer engagement. In her view, these trainings are crucial for long-term success.
Liberally praising the MEP training initiatives, Damon asks Alyssa to talk about lessons and strategies she has learned to deliver training across Alaska’s expansive and diverse geography effectively.

Alyssa shares they quickly learned that entirely asynchronous training fell flat, realizing how important live engagement and conversations are. Despite the geographic dispersion in Alaska, the human desire for connection motivated the MEP to prioritize live interactions. Similarly, they realized the need for networking opportunities to create spaces for manufacturers to connect. Industry connections and collaborations build the best relationships.

The MEP actively works on creating more networking opportunities to entertain collaboration within Alaska’s manufacturing community.

At Damon’s request, Alyssa discusses the excitement she derives from individual successes within the Alaska MEP. She finds it gratifying to witness the passion and success of entrepreneurs who consider their products their “babies.”

Additionally, the guest finds excitement in addressing long-standing issues within Alaska’s economy, especially those related to the supply chain. Alyssa sees these challenges as opportunities for the MEP to make a difference, both individually and by contributing to solutions for broader economic problems.
Damon inquires about the role of technology in addressing the challenges of supply chain and remoteness in Alaska.

Alyssa responds by acknowledging the positive role of technology in overcoming challenges. They use software to optimize the coordination of logistics and trucking companies. Alyssa also discusses the potential of drone technology to deliver essential supplies like medicine.

Coupled with positive impact, there is still room for improvement in product transportation. Similarly, the guest assesses the role of AI in optimizing routes within the supply chain.

While talking about two significant challenges for Alaska, Alyssa identifies supply chain and workforce development. Supply chain issues mainly arise due to isolation and lack of infrastructure. On the workforce front, Alyssa terms the “silver tsunami” or the aging workforce, noting that it’s been a known issue for a decade.

Alyssa expresses interest in exploring ways to engage underutilized populations, such as people with disabilities or those formerly incarcerated, aiming to create opportunities for disenfranchised groups to enter the workforce in meaningful ways.

The guest addresses common misconceptions about the younger generation’s work ethic and challenges the notion that they are lazy or disinterested in work. She shares a humorous anecdote about historical perspectives on each generation being labeled as lazy. In her view, it is necessary to come together to find collaborative solutions for workforce engagement. She encourages an inclusive approach to workforce development.

Alyssa cites Apple and Android for their open-mindedness and adaptability to different working styles. Alyssa believes businesses willing to learn and engage with the coming generation are likely to succeed, while those resistant to change may inadvertently limit their success.

Damon agrees with the guest and asks her to share some exciting developments from the past year and upcoming opportunities.

Alyssa mentions a valuable opportunity called “supplier scouting” provided through the Chips Act. MEPs offer assistance in finding specific items or connecting with manufacturers across the US at no cost. She shares an example of helping a local utility company locate products to comply with the “Buy America Build America Act.”

The upcoming opportunities include export training with a recent small export grant, reimbursable grants for various export-related activities, and incumbent worker training grants to support workforce development and retention.

Damon adds that these economic activities contribute to job creation and increased tax collection and are mutually beneficial.

Toward the show’s conclusion, Alyssa lists some of the coolest manufacturing stories she witnessed last year. These included the production of rocket fuel couplings and a unique Zamboni-like machine for aircraft carriers. She also talks about innovative products like making freeze-dried dog treats from waste, high-quality tea with compostable packaging, and sustainable products like clothing and picnic tables from recycled plastic.

The guest appreciates the contagious passion of manufacturers, finding joy in their dedication. She takes delight in the ripple effects, such as supporting farmers and creating job opportunities, bringing her a sense of fulfillment and excitement.

The show ends with Damon thanking Alyssa for her precious time.

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Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D., Damon Pistulka

Damon Pistulka 00:00
Okay. All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host, Damon Pistulka. And I am so excited today, because with me, I have none other than Dr. Elissa Rodriguez, the state director of the manufacturing extension partnership in Alaska, Dr. Elissa, thanks for being here today.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 00:26
Thank you for having me. I’m really excited about this. Thank you.

Damon Pistulka 00:30
Oh, my goodness, am I I am so excited. Because, you know, you guys are doing great things in Alaska, Kurt Anderson, I were able to go up there earlier this year and work with some manufacturers up there. And I thought, man, we have to have you on the faces of business and talk about what’s happening in Alaska manufacturing, the state of Alaska, Alaskan manufacturing, and just get your perspective on it.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 00:55
Yeah, I’m excited to share. Yeah, there’s a lot happening up here. There’s a lot that that Alaska and manufacturing kind of need in terms of direction and opportunity, and just being able to, you know, take advantage of those opportunities that we have in our state and in the nation.

Damon Pistulka 01:16
Super cool. Well, like we always, like we always want to do in the in the faces of business is, I’d like to understand how did you get to being the director of the Alaska MEP?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 01:32
Yeah. should begin by David Copperfield and I was born, but I will, I’ll spare you. I’ll spare you all of that. So it’s, you know, it’s kind of been an interesting and very, you know, kind of nonlinear path. I actually started in Forestry and Forest Management, and just really loved economics went from economics, in natural resources, to, you know, had family and Alaska wanted to move up here, found a position in labor economics, and actually spent over a decade and labor economics. And through working with people and giving I give a ton of presentations, it was one of my favorite things to do was to just have, you know, undivided opportunity to talk about data with people, you know, nothing like a captive audience for your data. nerding. And but, but when talking to folks really saw how much people wanted help with their economy, it was, it was great to be able to share the information with them. But from that lens, you really have to just be objective, and this, this is the data, this is what it is and stop there. And I really wanted to be able to go that next step with them. And so, you know, my spouse encouraged me to go ahead and, you know, take a take a leap, take a risk and try to see what could I could I do an economic development? And could that be a field where I could provide some value and help people. Because at the end of the day, that’s what I wanted to do was to be able to help people, you know, through economics, and through purposeful and intentional economic development. So I went and worked for the state and economic development, and through that kind of learned about the MEP, and at some point actually reached out to some of the other MEP directors to say, Hey, what is this thing? Like? What is the point of it? What should it do? From an economic development perspective? How can I engage, and then an opportunity arose fairly shortly thereafter, that the MEP in Alaska was kind of finding a new home and the university had applied for it. And when I found out about that, I was pretty intrigued. And I had run the Maine and Alaska program at the state I’ve overseen that. And so in the state of Alaska, oh, man, I should have had something with the logo on it handy. But there we have a little mother bear and cub logo. And that means that a product was made at least 51% in the state. And so that’s how, you know, if you’re in Alaska, that you’re buying kind of the genuine, the genuine Alaska made product, we also have what’s called Silver Hand. And so that little logo is an oval with a silver hand in it. And that means that it is a native made piece of art or you know, something of that nature. And so yeah, I’d had that exposure to manufactured products, and I really got to start digging into what did we make here? We don’t, you know, it’s a very small percent of our economy that’s actually in manufacturing. And even when you count seafood processing, it’s still still pretty small. And so I hadn’t had the opportunity before that to really dig in to understand what do we make here who are the people who make things? And so that was really fascinating and exciting for me. And again, spouse has encouraged me to you know, take a leap and try. try my hand at this program. And I did a lot of research to try and understand you know, what had happened in how happened with manufacturing in the past? Why would it be different seeing that it was with the university now? And did I think that I could have a positive impact on manufacturing in Alaska through this program? And at the end of the day, we said, yeah, yeah, I think I can. And so that’s why I came over. And I started the same day, the program started on July 1 2018. And really went about trying to figure out how can we help grow manufacturing in Alaska? And have been working hard at answering that question ever since?

Damon Pistulka 05:34
Yeah, that’s cool. And I was I was looking at I was looking at your history and, and, and going through that your data background has to be really, really interesting. Because you saw this before. And you saw the overall economy of the state of Alaska, you saw how much all the different pieces of it where you saw how manufacturing fit into the overall. And then your your forestry background. I mean, that’s massive in in the in the Alaska. But what was the when you started to look at Alaskan manufacturing? What was the first thing he went? Wow, I didn’t realize that at all?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 06:22
That’s a cool question. I really think it was the diversity. I’m just looking at the diversity of products that were made here. Really just kind of blew me away. And it’s one of those I forget the like phenomenon, red car phenomenon or something where like, you buy a red car, all you see was the same thing. And to Lisa was like, You got to stop this because everywhere we would go I’m like, hey, look, it’s made here. Hey, look, it’s me here. And so yeah, as soon as I started looking into it, it just the diversity and I’ve written an article about it when I was in, in labor economics, like I wrote the article on menu on other manufacturing everything that’s non seafood. So you would, you would have thought that I would have understood through writing that article, just how diverse the product lines were. But when you look at something through those North American Industrial Classification Codes, it’s very different than you know, just going to a shelf or sifting through, you know, permit data that says this is the the product that I make, you know, everything that’s a beverage is going to be classified under that NAICS code. But once you start digging into it, you’re like, oh, okay, so we’ve got coffee, we’ve got tea, we’ve got vodka, we’ve got beer, we’ve got kombucha, we’ve got Mead, like, all the sudden you’re like, wow, that’s not it’s not just beverages, you know, you really kind of opened the door to all this diversity. And the same was true when you looked into clothing. And when you started looking into non mineral, you know, what is it non mineral mining products or something? Yeah. So fascinating as you dig into it, to see the diversity that’s within even one, you know, NAICS code, or SOC Code, or those sorts of things. So that was one of the most interesting things about kind of being able to dig more into the data, and then you start to meet the people who make it all. And that just makes it so much more fascinating, because now it’s not just wow, that’s a really cool product. It’s Dang, that’s a cool product with a cool person with a cool story as to how they got here, why they care about it, why it matters to them. And it just, it’s like, it’s like a fractal. Every time you like, dig into it, you go deeper and deeper and deeper.

Damon Pistulka 08:38
Yeah, that is so cool. I want to just take a moment here, Jay. Jay, stop by drop a comment below. Jay, thanks for being here today. I want to let anyone if you’re listening to drop a question and drop a comment, let us know where you’re listening from. Because today we’re talking to Dr. Alyssa Rodriguez from the Alaska State Manufacturing Extension Partnership. So excited because this is just I mean, it’s so much fun to learn more about the Alaska manufacturing landscape, and what you guys are doing to help manufacturers there. So you guys do a lot of training for manufacturers. So you we before we got on, you talked about a couple of them. Can you just explain some of the kinds of things that you’re helping the manufacturers learn more about that in the past? And maybe what you got coming up?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 09:26
Yeah, absolutely. And so, so much of what we do has a training component. And so it could be really explicitly training. So for example, I want to say in late September, my date skill is squishy, but believe in late September, we had this amazing sales training by Wesleyan Grier and so that is very specific. It was in depth it was multiple days where we just poured over you know, who is your you know, key consumer who is your advocate within a business structure and how you approach them the multiple touches that you need when you’re trying to attract someone new. It was just so cool. So and then we actually are wrapping up today, a hazard training. So hazard analysis, critical control point training. So if you’re a food manufacturer, if you touch food, you know, in a restaurant, that is something that you need to know is how to make sure that your product is safe at all points. And so for seafood, you’re going to have a different, you know, maybe Critical Control Point than you would with a beverage product and those sorts of things. So understanding where your product or products where they become where the potential is for them to come unsafe, or to become unsafe, and how you’re going to control for that, how are you going to make sure you do it right every time. And so that, that training, just wrapped up day, we actually had three trainings back to back on on hasip. But then those are, are really focused, you know, trainings, that that are kind of classic training. The other thing we’ve got coming up is, end of January. So January 30, will be the start date, we have an export training, and that’s going to take folks again, it’s pretty in depth, it’s going to be once a week, over 10 weeks, that’s gonna take you deep into the How are you going to export your product? What’s the right market for you, you know, do you need different insurance and how to help you get that. So it’s not just, you know, it’s doing it with you and, and a little bit for you. So there’s, there’s a component of both, to really make sure that the end of those 10 weeks, you know, that you can export, and you’re ready to leap into that journey. So those are the very classic kind of classroom style trainings that we have. But then we have other things that we do, um, that provide training, but they’re in kind of a non traditional format. And that can be something like lean manufacturing, where we have somebody come into your facility, and it might be that you’re changing facilities. So you have somebody come see the space before, you’re all got everything in there, and help you lay things out to be as efficient as possible. And there’s always that component of, hey, I’m coming in, I’m gonna lay your space out for you, I’m gonna help you, or you have an established process, I’m going to analyze your process and see how can it become more efficient, where are the little bits of waste here and there, whether through time, product, et cetera. But there’s also a component of giving you those tools. So it’s not just hey, this, you know, you took 22 steps, you can turn that into five, but it’s helping you to be able to see your own processes through the lens of being more efficient, and that lean manufacturing, five s etc. And so that’s another way that there’s a training component kind of built into a lot of what we do we do the same when it comes to e commerce, there’s a component of you need a website. And so you know, you don’t you need a website, you don’t have time, we’re gonna do it for you. But then you need to know what’s the messaging that you’re putting out? Who is your key consumer? And how are you going to reach them, you, you can outsource all of that. But it is going to be so much better if you can be more engaged, if you can speak to who you know, is your key consumer, if you can put that time in to figure that out. And that’s a training component. And it might not feel like you’re being trained, because it’s just a deep conversation about you and your product and your consumer. But it is at the end of the day. It’s it’s training.

Damon Pistulka 13:26
Yeah, yeah, that’s so cool. And the that’s the thing, and I think about as you as you talk with the MEPs, across the US, and you guys are actually, I think you guys lead lead a lot of the places in us because you, you have to be a little more innovative because of the geography that you cover across Alaska is how do we engage these people that aren’t going to be out? You know, we’re not in a metropolitan area where we got 10 million people, you guys really have to understand how to get training delivered across the wide geographic area that people value and people will want to come to. So what have you guys really learned over the years? Because I mean, you’ve been here for the beginning, what are some of the things that you’ve learned that really, I’ve helped you guys do that?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 14:17
So I think one of the things that we learned really quickly was that training that is entirely asynchronous recorded, etc. falls flat. So that was one of the very first lessons we learned is we created a program that was entirely asynchronous, you sign up you take it watch it on your own time, we thought it’ll be great. And it was I think, just classic like I don’t know why I thought it would resonate with other people because I can barely say, you know, oh, there’s this this there’s this training I want to watch and make the time for I struggle with that. So why would busy you know, busy business owners? Just why would they do that? It’s way more engaging to be able to do something live, even if you’re not in the same room, but To be able to do it live and have that conversation and back and forth, we learned very quickly that that was the way to do it. And even even though we are really dispersed geographically, you know, we humans are humans, humans be human. And we we want connection we want to get together. And so to the extent possible, we try to make, you know, we try to provide those opportunities around the state. And as we came, you know, kind of came at a COVID More and more people want it to have opportunities to get together. So that was that was a big learning curve was just how are we going to deliver content? And then what what was missing? What was not being addressed or provided, you know, by by other organizations, or just by happenstance, it kind of never happened. One of those is networking. Our manufacturers don’t have a space to go that is for manufacturers, and they want that we hear it over and over and over again. And so that’s something else we actually I think it’s today. I think there’s a veteran’s it is a veteran networking event in Anchorage, Alaska tonight, from six to 9pm, at the BP energy center for all of those anchorages manufacturers that are listening. So, yeah, we’re trying to make more create more opportunities for people to just get together, there’s so much benefit that comes from knowing other people in your industry and making those connections. I can’t tell you how many products we have up here that are proof of that, but are these collaborations that you’re like, Oh, I had no idea that people from wild scoops ice cream knew that people from you know, this coffee place or this brewery or but their products are together now. And they do and that would not have happened if two people hadn’t met. And so that’s something that we’re really working on is are those networking pieces?

Damon Pistulka 16:52
Yeah. And I think to across the US, the MVPs are really working on that as well as are some of them you starting to put together some sort of network or some kind of way to share that. Because I mean, really, we’ve we’ve heard this before from other companies trying to nearshore onshore, their product, reinsure their products is like, one of the hardest things for us to reach our products is, I don’t know that I’ve got a manufacturer I need right down the street.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 17:25
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. And that is, you know, we have great examples of other states that are, that are really doing a bang up job of getting people together. And usually it comes down to having a few folks who are in the business community who are really passionate about it as well. And so you’ve got these passionate people in the MEP, passionate people in the community, and they come together, and they’re really able to kind of CO create something that benefits the whole ecosystem. So yeah, it’s absolutely something that folks are trying to do more and more of across the nation. Yeah.

Damon Pistulka 18:00
And you you have some great people out in out in the communities there. And it really, you can see when you’re there, how they’re engaged with the community, with the economic development people with the manufacturers, and really leading that charge for the Alaska, Alaska MEP. What are some of the things that you really get excited about as you see your people meeting more and more manufacturers in Alaska?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 18:25
Oh, man. So there’s a lot of things. I mean, there’s the I think one of the most fulfilling things about it is the individual successes, those you know, when you talk to somebody and and you know, you have a project with them, or you have an ongoing project with them. And when they share the impact of that on them personally, that is just one of the most gratifying things to know that you had some small role, you your team, whatever it was, had a small role in helping someone’s someone’s dream come true. You know, like, these are their babies, they, they’re passionate about T they’re passionate about their product. You know, and that’s one of the most awesome things to see is, is when you’ve helped somebody succeed. We’ve got someone I believe she’s working with Kurt, and she might be working with you as well. But Ashley Latta guard from tilta curl. That’s one of the coolest stories and in just came from a chance meeting, and then learned that she had this cool product that she was kind of playing around with. And from that initial conversation, she’s had, I think, seven iterations. She’s gotten engineering help design help. We’re doing a prototyping run. She’s got a website built and getting ready. I mean, she is going to be manufacturing a product that will be purchased around the world that’s new that’s innovative. And it is it is so cool. To have been able to see her and her product grow and to have been any small part of helping someone stream that they just thought, you know, maybe I could do this someday and yeah, darn right you can, and we’re gonna, we’re gonna help you do it. And so that’s one of the coolest, coolest things is to be a part of that. And the other thing that’s really exciting is just looking at, you know, you mentioned that Alaska is different, we are really isolated from, you know, like a supply chain perspective. And so to see some of these kind of bigger, you know, I hate to say intractable, but really long term issues that have kind of plagued Alaska’s economy, to see those issues, and to be able to, hopefully, move the needle to be able to take on projects that are going to benefits, you know, one person at a time, but also dig in and say, what are the what are the bigger problems that are getting in people’s ways? What are those problems that everybody shares? And how might be the MEP, play some sort of role in moving the needle towards making that problem better for everyone? Not not just one at a time? Those are those are really cool opportunities to that

Damon Pistulka 21:09
is that is? Now obviously, communication has gotten easier. But do you think that technology is really helping with some of that supply chain with the remoteness to be able to, to, to get the products a little easier? Even if the time doesn’t change? Can we? What do you see? Is that helping?

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 21:32
I would say with my, you know, I’ll be limited experience, I would say, the short answer has to be yes. I mean, Alaska is still such a young state, or infrastructure with very little, you know, road and you know, infrastructure and things like that. And so when you think about the opportunities that technology affords us, you know, from software to be able to pull a bunch of, you know, logistics companies together, or a bunch of, you know, trucking companies together, and then use software to maximize who’s going where, and how can we connect, that’s awesome. On the other side, you know, you’ve got remote communities say, you know, only accessible by air, winter is going to be awful to try and access them and somebody needs medicine, you know, you’re a basic human needs. And now, rather than try and risk, you know, a really dangerous flight, you know, on a plane on a helicopter, etcetera, to try and get someone in, you can do something like that, potentially on a drone. And so, I think you’d have a hard time saying, No, that technology hasn’t had a positive impact, there’s still so much further to go, you know, because that drone to get, you know, medicine into somebody is going to be just terribly expensive. So it’s not a solution for those, those perpetual problems that we have. But there, there are definitely opportunities that I think technology is affording us to help people have a better quality of life to get products moved around the state better. And that’s one of the things that I think that we’re I don’t wanna say banking on, but that we are really taking a hard look at is, how are things different now? You know, especially when we think about the supply chain, how are they different now than they used to be? And what role does technology plays there? Is there a role, you know, for AI to play in something like that, in mapping out, you know, the most effective routes or anything of that nature, what opportunities we have to make use of all the tools at our disposal, and not just us at the MEP, but but all everybody that we work with? Yeah,

Damon Pistulka 23:34
yeah. So what are some of the things that are happening in manufacturing? I mean, you guys just finished up the national convention here not so long ago? And what are some of the things you you see happening in manufacturing across the United States that you think is really going to impact Alaskan manufacturers? Wow,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 23:55
that’s a that’s a great question. I mean, I think there’s a big, there’s a big question mark, about AI, which I mentioned before, you know, what, what impact will that have? What opportunities are afforded? You know, whether it comes to, you know, marketing and things like that, you know, something as simple as, you know, chat GPT give me a list of, you know, marketing ideas for my business for the next you know, 10 months, that’s gonna save somebody a ton of time. They just don’t have to sit down and think like, oh, what should my themes be? So it can be something as simple as that, or something as complex as I want to use this to model all these different things and give me this, you know, really intricate output from a supply chain perspective or, you know, logistics perspective. It can really run the gamut, I think. So those are some of the things or I should say one of the things that I think I’m hoping that the next conference will really dig into that more and how are other MEPs and manufacturers utilizing those tools? I think one of the the two biggest Things I think that are going to impact Alaska are supply chain and workforce development. And, you know, supply chain is interesting. Again, just because I don’t want to belabor that one too much, but it’s, it’s been a long term problem in Alaska, just due to our isolation and lack of infrastructure. So we got some federal funds to work on supply chain as a nation. And that also affords us an opportunity to really take a hard look at Alaska individually. But, um, workforce development, you know, I was presenting about the silver tsunami, you know, for a decade. And, and we are, you know, there should be no surprise about the fact that the shrinking work working age population, we knew it was coming. But how, how are you going to handle that, because by and large, I, I would love to know what other states like saw that come in, and we’re like, we’re jumping on it, and now they’re cruising their golden they work their plan. But but we didn’t, you know, we, we saw that it was coming. And we, you know, did a little this little that, but most of our manufacturers are in a place where workforce is really tight, it’s hard to get, how do you cope with turnover and all those things? And so, we are, we’re working on that both with like, specific, you know, one on one employers, but then also, you know, how can we make a larger impact? What are those things, that all manufacturers need, that we can collaborate, you know, maybe it’s with the university or with the school district on to try to make sure that the, the workforce that’s coming, and that’s, you know, entering in those those kids there, I say, that they will have those skills that our manufacturers need. The other thing that I’m really interested in, is how can we as a state, as the manufacturing industry, work with underutilized populations that haven’t maybe been given a chance to be in the labor force in the way that others have? So whether those are people with, you know, any any kind of disability, whether those are formerly incarcerated? You know, there’s there are groups of people that are have been very disenfranchised from the labor force? And in many cases, not, not because they don’t want to be engaged, but because maybe they’ve heard no, so many times, or workplaces, you know, aren’t making the small accommodations to large accommodations that they might need to engage? And so how can we engage those populations in a way that hasn’t been done before? Well,

Damon Pistulka 27:27
because you bring up a great point, I work with a company that in here in the Seattle area that helps people with developmentally disabled people, they coach them and help them find employment. And they were telling me that in that segment of our population, there’s like 75%, unemployment. And these are people that want to come to work and do good work every day. And then there’s another, there’s another one here in Seattle, I know that does hire incarcerated people to come in their workforce, and they’re a very big manufacturing company, and they can, these people can come out and they can start working and, and get technical training and continue to progress through the business and develop very good careers. And these are, this is like, we don’t have options in manufacturing anymore to hire people. I mean, so. But these are gold mines, because you good loyal people that want to work that want to grow and their their skills and their abilities, and really can create great careers for themselves while helping these businesses thrive. Absolutely,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 28:34
absolutely. And I think that’s one of the one of the hard things. I think, when when we have discussions about workforce is our Oh, anecdotal evidence, you know, everybody’s had somebody that they’ve worked with, that’s just really been challenging, haven’t come to work regularly, you know, it’s just kind of pulling teeth. And so we, I think, just tend to label this generation doesn’t want to work and those sorts of things. And one of the one of the most hilarious quotes that I found was, gosh, I think it was now I’m gonna now I’m gonna get around this, either Plato or Socrates, I forget, who had a fantastic quote about how this generation is lazy and doesn’t want to work. And they have things so easy. And when I would give presentations, I’d pop up the quote, everyone would agree that that’s this generation. And then I would show that, you know, it was it was actually Socrates, we’ve always felt that the coming generation has it easy, and they’re lazy, and they don’t want to work. And, and for the most part, that’s not true. We approach workforce differently, work life balance, all these things. So there are differences. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t. But we need to figure out how to come together and and to just say, Ah, they’re lazy and they don’t want to work. It does does everyone a disservice. Like let’s figure out how we can work together and engage everybody who wants to be part of the workforce, as opposed to You know, kind of putting up those walls that say, No, I’m gonna keep doing what I’ve always done. And if it doesn’t work, it’s because they’re lazy, not because I’m inflexible.

Damon Pistulka 30:09
That’s great as great. I giggle because it is it is, you know, you said it’s a quote from Socrates, every generation says it. And it’s, it’s a challenge for every business right now. And I think that you, you hit the nail on the head perfectly and saying that we have to learn how to work with everyone to be able to get the people and develop the workforce and the future leaders and people in our organizations we need.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 30:37
Yeah, absolutely like this, you know, when you when you imagine your business, this is this is your baby, you built it, you’re, you’re proud of it, you want it to succeed. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you, if you, you know, inadvertently threw it all away, because you just didn’t want to work with this, this generation that we don’t understand. It’s, you know, it’s Apple versus Android. They both they’re both phones, they both work. They’re both systems that you can use. But if you’re an Android person, and you’re not willing to use Apple, or vice versa, you’re you’re limiting yourself. And so you know, if we can, if we can humble ourselves, to learn how to work with the coming generation, I think those will be the businesses that really succeed. And the businesses that say, what, what workforce problem, like, we have people who want to work for us, and they stay, and that’s all great, it’s not really a problem for us. Those are going to be the ones that succeed is because they engage on a person to person level and are willing to be flexible. Yeah,

Damon Pistulka 31:36
yeah. Yeah, that’s for sure. Because it’s, it is it is, like you said, it’s Apple versus Android. They’re both phones, they both do the job. It’s just we just got to figure out how to get to get them both in the workforce with. Yeah, so what are some of the things I know one of the things that the MVPs do a really good job of, is helping manufacturers, connect manufacturers to grants or other governmental funding opportunities? What are some of the exciting things that you’ve seen this last year? And some of the things that you you see, that may be coming up? Yeah.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 32:14
So I mean, so there’s a handful of things, one of the cool things that is a really great opportunity is for help with supplier scouting. And it’s called supplier scouting. But you know, if if you’ve got a thing that you make, and you need something that goes into that, we can help you with that. And it’s actually, you know, it’s actually through the chips act and everything, that all MEPs are, are providing this service at no cost. And so, you know, we we were a local utility company wasn’t even a manufacturer, to try and help them find a variety of items that they needed to meet the Buy America build America Act. And so we’ve got the ability to connect with manufacturers across the US to try to find, find a product that somebody needs or find somebody who can make the product for them if they’ve got something that they need, that’s different. Whether Yeah, whether it’s, you know, trying to connect and get cans and bottles when when that’s, you know, in short supply or those sorts of things. So that’s something that that we have, that we provide, it’s free because of a grant. But you don’t even have to apply for it. You just come and ask us like, hey, I need help finding something.

Damon Pistulka 33:26
Now, that program again, I’m gonna make sure we Yeah, so I mean,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 33:30
I would just call it supplier scouting, supply chain optimization, all those sorts of things. So every MEPs got this where if you if you need something, or even if you want to tell the world, I make fiber optic cable, you can go tell your MEP hammock fiber optic cable, do you know what opportunities are out there for me? And they can plug you in and say, Yeah, I have 500 people that have reached out and say they need fiber optic cable so you know who you want me to connect you with. So that’s a really great opportunity. And the idea of it is that we’re going to build that US capacity to manufacture more and more and kind of rebuild what has been lost over the years. The things that we’ve got coming up, I mentioned the export training that we have, well, our state recently got a small export grant. And so it provides reimbursable grants for all sorts of activities related to export. What do you want your website translated? You want to take a training on export, you want to go to a trade show that includes an international market, all sorts of things can be included if they’re tied back to international trade and export. And then we have and I think a lot of states have this. We have something called incumbent worker training grants, and you’re vastly underutilized in our state. I don’t know about others, but if you’ve got workers and you need to get them trained in something, it could be sales it could be lean manufacturing. You know, it could be a very wide variety of things you can apply for these incumbent worker training grants. And there’s there’s match required, but it depends on the size of your business. And, and yeah, you put together a plan with the grant worker. And yeah, it’s it’s an amazing resource that not a lot of people know about, that allows you to reinvest back into your workforce, which is something that we have a ton of evidence that contributes to retention. So you want to retain your people, there’s grants to help you do it. That’s

Damon Pistulka 35:35
cool. I mean, like you said, you just named off several things that could help the manufacturers and Alaska in any other state honestly go to your MVP, there’s one in every 50 states and Puerto Rico to correct Yeah, yeah. And you can get this kind of help. And like you said, the supplier scouting alone, can be not just you can find what you need. Other people might be able to find you. That’s a great, that’s incumbent worker training, I think there’s so much missed opportunity there. Because it’s something that you’re going to have to train people anyway. Yes. And you can go and potentially get part of those costs offset, and maybe let you train more people, just so much good stuff that happens around that. And that’s one of the things that I didn’t realize when I was running manufacturing companies that at the MEPs, were there, but be the amount of opportunities for you and an MVP to partner with these funding. chances that you have to be able to offset some costs, that allows you to move your business forward farther and faster. Because you’re not footing the entire bill. And we get the we get the benefit on the backside as people have jobs, more taxes, you know, all kinds of things that helps our communities in our country.

Yeah, yeah. Oh, cool.

Damon Pistulka 37:03
Yeah, it doesn’t take me much to get fired up about it, because it is so you know, in it, this comes to my my fun questions, because because we’re gonna get close to time here before we know it. But I gotta ask these because we are talking about Alaskan manufacturing. So what is the coolest, absolutely coolest thing you’ve seen made in in the last year? Gosh,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 37:31
that is so hard. I thought that would be like, you know, Can I can I have a handful instead of one?

Damon Pistulka 37:39
Give me a handful of examples, because I want people to understand.

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 37:43
So I think one of the most unexpected things that we manufacture, there’s there’s two that I think are really unexpected. You know, unless Unless you’ve been around Alaska manufacturing economic development for a while one would be rocket fuel couplings. And that was one of the coolest things that I learned about. And so it’s literally the thing that’s providing fuel. And then as the rocket detaches, they decouple super critical, and I had no idea that we were manufacturing rocket parts in Alaska. One of the other coolest things, and most maybe most unexpected, is, um, it’s, I have heard it described as a Zamboni for aircraft carriers. And so aircraft carriers, I guess their decks are very bumpy. Yeah, they have these little almost like ball bearings that’ll come detached over time. And so rather than having a person out there, and kind of a dangerous position cleaning that there’s a machine that can clean that, and we manufacture them here in Alaska. And not only can it do that, it has a lot of other applications. And so they’ve really branched out in terms of, you know, local governments can use them for cleaning all sorts of things. And reducing overall maintenance costs long term for those reasons. But I think I want to say our airport here might might even use it, because one of the most costly things about a parking garage is shutting it down to clean a floor. And so with this, you’re doing it way faster, and much more efficiently. And so they’re actually losing a lot less revenue when they have to stop things to clean up. And so it’s just a really cool product that’s made here. And then you know, some of my other favorite things, I mean, just and it’s more I want to say it’s probably more than manufacture than it is the actual product. But you know, we’ve got folks who are I think you I think you’ve met them Damon who are making freeze dried dog treats, and they’re using what would otherwise be waste. Yeah. Always one of the coolest things when you’ve got somebody who’s using a product that would otherwise be wasted, and they’re turning it into this, you know, beautiful high dollar product 100% Salmon, nothing else no dog tree that’s made, you know, to human grade standards. If you want to eat it, you can. That’s fantastic. It’s so cool. And then you know, we’ve got people that we’re helping with, you know, pro prototyping new tools for you know, hair designs and for safety and all sorts of things, you know, you lose somebody, how can you reconnect with them and tools like that? With the other folks that are making tea that was a super cool project. We have a manufacturer in Soldotna, Alaska where you went, Yeah, she was looking at getting a piece of equipment. And I think I think she said the equipment was gonna be like $90,000 And we worked with her we brought somebody in to help find the machine that would meet all her criteria. And they were able to find it for around $30,000 shipped delivered everything. So you know, by by having his prep she saved almost $60,000 which is just amazing. And now she’s she showed it to us online. I think it was me last week. These beautiful pyramid tea bags that look that are just so like beautiful and high end the tea is delicious. And the whole friggin thing is compostable. Just throw it throw it in your compost. And we Yeah, so just so cool. And then we’ve got other folks who are doing more with with salmon, you know, we’ve got we’ve got other freeze dried dog treats, we don’t have a lot of dog stuff. We like our dogs. We’ve got other folks that are doing you know different types of, of Alaskan using the skin of the salmon to make dog treats. Super cool clothing that gets shipped around the world like on answer to Antarctica, somebody’s going on an expedition they’re bringing Alaska made clothing just so much and then our culture, you know, other things that are part of like Alaskan Alaskan Native culture that are made here, you know, different clothing, items, earrings, all sorts of cool stuff, we got somebody else who uses entirely recycled plastic, his dream is to use plastic that’s recovered from the ocean. And and he makes boards out of them essentially like two by fours and those sorts of things. And right now they’re making picnic tables out of it. But like you mean anything use make a two by four, like you use a two by four. And you could use this. And that’s equally just amazing that we’ve got someone in Alaska that’s that’s doing that that’s taken our plastic and making something useful out of it. Yeah,

Damon Pistulka 42:04
yeah. mazing in the the innovative products, using the materials that are there. I mean, it’s just so cool to see some of the things that that people are making. And then, you know, like, when Kurt and I were there, when we visited the machine shop, I should have remembered the name, but I don’t, you know, latest technology. Yeah, yeah, latest technology you’ll see anywhere in the world right there. And and explaining how this thing is going to run virtually lights out as much as it needs to run and, and just matching those two things together with with the ingenuity and innovation of the people in Alaska and then and then the technology is so cool.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s fascinating. What

Damon Pistulka 42:58
what are the things about Alaska manufacturers that help you and your team? Just get up in the morning? I mean, because there’s a lot of challenges. Yeah,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 43:10
you know, I would say that they’re, their passion is contagious, you know, and typically what we find when we work with people, you know, they didn’t, the tea manufacturing, you know, got into it, because they’re passionate about tea, and about, like sustainability, and all those sorts of things, not because she gets super jazzed to find a piece of equipment, like in cancer, research, all that. And so getting to getting to play a role in something that someone else is so passionate about is so fascinating and fun. And it is the passion, it is the passion of the manufacturers, that I think is what gets us up and feeling like we’re making a difference, you know, that, that people have been so willing to share the outcomes of the projects, that’s been really awesome. And you know, when you go into place, I was in Costco the other day and saw, you know, steam dot has a cold brew coffee product, and it went from being in the refrigerated section to on the shelf, because they got a food safety test. And they the challenge study was was all great. And their product is safe to be on the shelf without being refrigerated. And that is awesome. Even taking pictures of it and texting it to people because I’m so excited to see that growth for them. And all the doors that opens up and to, to know the people who that’s going to impact is super, super fun. And and that it ripples, you know, being able to have that that you know, kind of labor, you know, Department of Labor work Workforce Development economic development lens to see that like this is one manufacturer and this is what’s going great for them. But I see how that’s going to impact the farmers that Megan is going to work with and who are going to be able to grow more of their product and sell it to her or the folks that seemed that’s going to employ now that they wouldn’t have before and it might be one or two jobs, but those are real people. They’re real. Yeah, you know, live on the other side of town who have a job now that might not have if we hadn’t done this project. And that’s that’s awesome. So so cool.

Damon Pistulka 45:09
Oh, yeah, I just I love talking with you Dr. Elissa because it’s the the passion comes through. It’s even factoring and I can see that when, when you guys are helping and just the desire to serve the Alaskan manufacturers and really help them succeed. And and just watch the watch the economy grow there. Were wind enough, and it’s so much fun talking to you. I want to James conkel stopped by and said yes, he’s it, James. That guy knows coatings. I’ll just say that. According to dope, but James is the king of coatings. And he’s been doing a livestreams podcast for a long time about it. It’s really, really interesting, really interesting. But, Dr. Elissa, I want to thank you for being here today. And just letting us know what’s happening in Alaska manufacturing, and what’s happening with the Alaska manufacturing ascension partnership for the Alaska MEP. Thank you so much for for having me. Yeah,

Alyssa Rodrigues, Ph.D. 46:20
I really appreciate it chance to get to come and chat with you and share and it’s been a lot of fun. Thank you so much.

Damon Pistulka 46:25
Awesome, awesome. Well, it’s been great to have you and learn so much today. Now, if you’ve been listening to this, and you don’t want to learn more about the Alaska manufacturing, and the Alaska MEP, and learn more about it from Dr. Elissa. Go back to the beginning of this thing at the beginning of this thing, this, this, this broadcast and check it out because there’s a lot of good stuff in here. And I’m going to tell you, you are going to want to come to Alaska, you’re going to want to see some of these manufacturers in action because they are making some cool stuff. Thanks everyone for being here today. We’ll be back again Dr. Elissa, just hang out for a moment and we’ll finish up after we’re shut down here. Thank you

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