A citizen of the world lands in Vermont: Patrick Boyle and VMEC

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Photo: Center Director and CEO of VMEC, Patrick Boyle. Photo: Baldwin Photography

by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine

An engaging and globe-trotting Scotsman with an Irish name has turned out to be the perfect choice to take over the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center.

Patrick Boyle, 61, is only the second person to head VMEC, which was founded in 1995. He leads a team of 10.

With his Scottish accent and easy charm, Boyle is a delight to talk to. He’s witty, open and has the ability to put almost anyone at ease. The word most people use to describe him is “engaging.”

“Patrick is one of that rare breed of individuals who is energetic and optimistic,” said William Putsis, a University of North Carolina business professor who met Boyle 10 years ago at Yale University when they were both teaching as part of an executive leadership program. “He thinks creatively out of the box. He wants to make a difference in whatever he does. He is action-oriented.”

Putsis described a training program he ran with Boyle that included two weeks in Normandy, France.

“We stayed in a hotel that was like a chateau,” he said. “That sounds a little more formal than it really is, but at the end of our stay Patrick made sure that the entire group got together and gave a gift of meaning to the hotel owners. It wasn’t just a tip. It was a tree that was planted, so that when future generations came to that place that tree would be part of what they saw. To me, that’s a real example of trying to build a legacy. Anyone who has Patrick working with them is blessed and better because of what he can bring to the table.”

Right now, that would be the nonprofit VMEC, which is part of a National Institute for Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Program, or MEP, a public-private partnership with centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico dedicated to helping small and midsized manufacturers.

“VMEC is funded by a federal matching grant,” Boyle explained. “The use of that grant is dependent on VMEC selling its services to clients. When we sell a service, it becomes VMEC revenue. When we sell, say, $100 of a service, we can draw down $100 of the grant. This allows us to provide the services at a much-reduced rate to the clients. We have no requirement to make money. At the end of the year, we have a target of zero in the VMEC account. Then the process starts again.”

The government funding depends on the number of manufacturers in the state; the idea is to grow the U.S. small and medium-sized manufacturing sector. The Vermont grant amounts to about $800,000 a year, Boyle said.

Each year, VMEC surveys its clients to see how it is doing.

Photo: Center Director and CEO of VMEC, Patrick Boyle. Photo: Baldwin Photography

Photo: Center Director and CEO of VMEC, Patrick Boyle. Photo: Baldwin Photography

“The clients complete an independent survey conducted by a third party after their engagement with VMEC,” Boyle said. “From July 2021 to June 2022, our clients told us in that as a result of partnering with VMEC, 96 new jobs were created and 443 were retained that otherwise would have been eliminated or moved to other states. 

“They also told us they collectively invested $10 million in new equipment; new or improved processes; IT and technology; and people development. They said the work we partnered with them on led collectively to $47 million in new and retained sales for the period measured. If they had not partnered with us, the implication is that those numbers would be lower.”

VMEC data shows that, over the past three years, every $1 clients spent on assistance returned an average on that investment of $350.

Boyle, who started his working life at 16, has parlayed one learned skill into another, developing ever-more complex careers developing trainings, changing corporate cultures and empowering human resource departments.

After completing an apprenticeship in electrical engineering with British Railways, he earned a degree in psychology, with honors, from Leeds University. Then he worked for a while in London before deciding to see the world. He started teaching English as a Second Language in Egypt, then worked in various capacities in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and mainland China before coming to the United States.

Boyle retired as senior vice president and chief learning officer at Underwriters Laboratories and was living in Boston when COVID hit. He and his wife, Jessica, who is a Vermonter, decided to wait out the pandemic in Brookfield, Vermont, where they have a second home.

Boyle then looked around for a job. When VMEC found him — or more to the point, when he found VMEC — it was a perfect fit, according to Mike Rainville, chair of the VMEC Board of Directors and owner of Maple Landmark.

“The VMEC organization has always been recognized as a well-run center within the federal MEP network,” Rainville said. “A lot of that credit goes to our former CEO, Bob Zider, who had been at the helm since almost the beginning over 25 years ago. The board saw that there was a lot that was right, with a great team in place, so no significant course corrections were required. Therefore, the search for a new leader was to find someone who could work well with the staff and culture to maintain current performance, while having an ability to bring fresh ideas to increase VMEC’s capability in serving Vermont’s manufacturing base.”

Boyle’s overseas experience, including his ability to handle different jobs and cultures, speak other languages and be comfortable with diversity, impressed the board.

“His description of previous efforts to bring forward organizational improvements indicated he would be a great fit for where VMEC was positioned,” Rainville said. “All feedback regarding Patrick’s first year on board has confirmed his ability to work constructively with the staff to make adjustments and enhance opportunities for performance. I appreciate a measured, “listen first” approach, and he has done that.”

VMEC is based at the former Vermont Technical College, now part of the newly created Vermont State University. Former Vermont Tech President Patricia Moulton, a member of the search committee that recruited Boyle, said he has brought a “new view” to the organization.

“He brings a strong HR background as well as diversity in the types of businesses he’s worked in,” said Moulton, now executive director of workforce development for the Vermont State Colleges System. “He knows manufacturing, he knows manufacturing processes, and HR is a significant consideration.”

Moulton added that Boyle has worked hard to help eliminate internal hierarchical systems so that people feel empowered to do their work.

“You’ve got your director, your assistant director and your finance people, and then you’ve got everybody else,” Moulton said. “Patrick has said, ’Look, we’re all one team.’ So yes, he’s the director, and people report to him. But they don’t have to go through any layers to get him. And they are all of equal status."

“He’s also engaging the board more in terms of strategy and planning. He recognizes that there is a lot of good talent on that board. Patrick says, ’I need your ideas’ and ’What do you think?’ and ’Where are you seeing the pinch points?’”

Boyle’s sense of humor, sense of camaraderie and laid-back approach help unite the team, Moulton said.

“In this environment, where people are working at home and they’re autonomous, you need to support them,” Moulton said. “Yet the team needs to get together every now and then. We had a board meeting one time, and he brought the staff in to join. We actually had a nice light dinner together. So, there was the board and staff intermingling, which had never happened before. You find out more about people. And the more you know about each other, the more you respect each other. That’s how you make everything a little more human.”

"At a time when Vermont businesses, especially those in manufacturing, are struggling with workforce-development issues, Boyle’s HR experience and his ability to empower people are especially valuable," Moulton said.

“Companies have the need to attract and retain employees,” she said. “They may have to look hard at their hiring processes, their wage rates, their job descriptions and that kind of thing. Patrick and his team have the background to address those issues. He’s the right guy at the right time.”

Helen Haacker, who first worked with Boyle at Underwriters Laboratories and now serves alongside him as a VMEC communications consultant, echoed Moultan’s sentiments. “He’s the best executive I’ve ever worked with,” she declared.

“There are really two parts,” Haacker continued. “One is that he is a very encouraging leader; he’s trying to really empower the people that work for him. The second part is just that he’s a great individual. He’s very funny. He’s lived so many lives. It’s just been a joy to hear him talk about his career progression. Also, he cares about the community he’s in.”

Jeff Flesher, who has known Boyle since his days at Underwriters Laboratories, marvels at Boyle’s ability to interact with everyone he meets.

“He attracts people to him. He has a very calm center, whether he’s engaged in something difficult or challenging,” said Flesher, managing partner of Connecticut-based Wisdom Mates. “He can walk into the middle of the storm. And he’s really good at developing people, seeing things in them, and helping them to do things for themselves. VMEC could have hired a lot of people who would have been competent and possibly have provided good continuity of work. But it’s hard to find somebody who can accelerate it.”


CONNEX Vermont

This summer, Boyle has been enthusiastically marketing a new VMEC service, CONNEX Vermont, that he believes will be a game-changer. Launched in August, CONNEX is a free, online manufacturer database and connectivity platform for Vermont manufacturers to connect with each other, find local suppliers, discover new business opportunities and manage their supply chains. 

“VMEC is delighted to help bring another practical and useful system for encouraging and enabling commerce between Vermont manufacturers and suppliers as well as between Vermont and U.S. manufacturers and suppliers,” said Boyle. “Those that join the platform will be able to make themselves visible in the Green Mountain state and in the U.S. as well as see others in the state and in the U.S. that they can do business with. This platform will make it much easier to source and supply locally and nationally.”

To help manufacturers develop more reliable supply chains and find alternate suppliers, the CONNEX platform helps identify potential suppliers within the state based on their capabilities, not just current production. Results can be filtered using hundreds of unique criteria, such as equipment, processes, materials and certifications.

CONNEX also enables manufacturers to post requests for information (RIFs) and requests for quotes (RIQs) and receive direct responses from qualified suppliers.


Early Life

Boyle was born in the small town of Broxburn, just outside of Edinburgh, to an Irish family that immigrated to Scotland for work — hence, his Irish-sounding name and Scottish accent.

“My father’s parents and my mother’s grandparents immigrated from Ireland to Scotland,” Boyle said. “My grandmother on my mother’s side was Scottish with no Irish roots. So, I’m a mix with mostly Irish heritage.”

Boyle is the older of two brothers; his father was a coal miner and his mother worked in factories. The town he comes from, which dates back to before 1600, is working class through and through.

“It was mining, car-making factories, all kinds of factories —sort of an industrial belt,” Boyle said. “Scotland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, was full of industry in those days.”

While the Boyle boys were not expected to work in high school, they took up full-time jobs “being kids” and playing sports, Boyle said. 

“But my parents expected that when we left school at 16, we would start working,” he said.

When that time came, Boyle was offered apprenticeships as a welder and an electrician, among other less appealing choices. To his way of thinking, being an electrician seemed the more cerebral of the two pursuits.  

“Maybe you learn current and voltage and reading diagrams,” he said. “Plus, they taught you everything about how to wire a house. All the various aspects of being an electrician seemed more interesting to me than the other apprenticeships.”

So, Boyle chose to be an electrician and work on the railroads.

“I worked for British Railways,” he said. “My job was on the electrical maintenance of locomotives. Locomotives had a diesel engine that powered a DC generator. That generator powered six traction motors through the current produced in the voltage. And that’s what drove the locomotive.”

After serving his apprenticeship, Boyle would have qualified as a master electrician and been eligible to work on trains for the rest of his life. But he chose a different path.

“You’re looking at day shift, night shift, back shift for the rest of your life,” he said. “That was a fairly dirty job. You’re underneath a locomotive. They’re not the cleanest things I’ve ever seen in my life. And then you think, ’Maybe, maybe there might be more to life than this. Maybe there’s more out there?’”

”Then Boyle met someone from his hometown who had gone to university.

“And he said to me, ’You seem bright enough. Why don’t you take what you have today, apply for university and see if you can get in? You’ve got five years of work behind you. You’ll pass their entrance test.’”

As part of his apprenticeship, Boyle attended school once a day for “theory.”

“They called it a national diploma in electrical and electronic engineering,” Boyle said. “And I passed it. That was enough to get you into university. I also did a mature matriculation exam. At the age of 21, I was classified as mature! I used to show people: ’Look, I’m mature! It says here on this form!’”

Boyle was interested in what his friend was studying, so he chose the same academic field: psychology.

“I said, ’That’s really interesting to me. I’ll apply to do that,’” Boyle said. “And I got into a college of Leeds University and did a four-year degree. I graduated with an honors degree in psychology and public media. And that was the study of organizational communication.”

At first, his change of plans concerned his parents.

“They said, ’Oh, my god, you have a great job! You’re making decent money,’” Boyle said. “And then they said, ’You know what? We think it’s a great idea.’ They came around pretty quickly.”

The university system charged no fees. Boyle only had to work to get spending money, and his parents even offered to help him there.

“Everything was paid for,” he said. “Plus, I had worked for five years already. I had some savings, but also the tax credits I had accumulated went in my favor for university. So it was a free ride ­— a total free ride — and they actually gave me a grant to cover other expenses. If it wasn’t for that, I probably would not have done it. But it was easy to do. It wasn’t a financial burden.”

Boyle was 26 when he graduated. Then he moved to London and had what sounds like a wild time.

“I got job offers, so whatever job, right?” Boyle said. “I lived in London for over a year. I loved it. London is a great place to live if you’re young. It’s a fantastic city. I lived with friends; three of us shared an apartment. It was a great time. And then I thought, ’Well, maybe there’s more. Maybe there’s more to life than London.’”


Working Around The World

Boyle read about people traveling the world while teaching English as a Second Language. It wasn’t long before he found himself in Cairo, Egypt.

“A friend of mine wanted to go,” Boyle said. “So I said, ’Well, I’ll come too. Let’s go together.’ We got jobs in Cairo, teaching English as a Foreign Language for a year or so. It was a fantastic cultural experience. Living in Cairo was amazing.  Everybody was so friendly.

“I went back a couple of years ago, 30 years later. I still love it,” he added. “What a great place! I was so happy to show my wife and daughter where I used to live and where I used to do this or that. I got the certificate for teaching there.”

Later, Boyle met another friend who was planning to teach English in Japan.

“I went back to do summer school in the U.K. and then moved to Japan,” Boyle said. “I spent a couple of years in Japan, one and a half maybe, teaching English. Loved it. Fantastic place. And then this friend of mine said, ’Fancy living in Australia?’ So I made an application to get a working holiday visa and ended up in Australia for a year after Japan, teaching English to non-English speakers there.”

After his visa expired, Boyle traveled to Southeast Asia and landed in Hong Kong.

“I spent seven years in Hong Kong,” Boyle said. “I spent, in total in Hong Kong, maybe about 15 years, because it was two periods. When I got to Hong Kong, I moved from teaching English to doing training programs — presentation skills like report writing and things like that. And then, one day, I was very lucky. I showed up to a company called Mass Transit Railway, which is the railway company in Hong Kong. Here’s where it all comes together, right?”

As he tells it, that Saturday morning (the workweek there is six days). Boyle went to Mass Transit Railway to teach their engineers how to write reports, but the full-time trainer never showed.

“The head of HR showed up,” Boyle said. “She said, ’OK, where is this guy?’ And I said, ’I don’t know. But I’m here. My name is Patrick.’”

She asked Boyle for a CV, and when she saw his background in train technology as well as report-writing, she offered him a job.

“She said, ’This is what we’re looking for,’” Boyle said. “Let’s hire you to work full time for me. Forget what else you’re doing in Hong Kong. You are going to be the technical training guy, our link between the technical people and the HR people.’ Then she said, ’My deal is, you teach us railways, and I’ll teach you HR.’ And I said, ’Deal.’”

So Boyle moved from teaching to HR and training and never looked back.

In China, for one thing, he worked on the building of the Guangzhou underground railway — the first one they ever built — coordinating the technical training. Then he went back to Hong Kong.

But when he watched his Hong Kong friends traveling around the Asian Pacific region for work, his adventuring genes kicked in again, and he decided he wanted to do that too.

When Boyle saw an advertisement for a position with Asia Pacific Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical device company, he applied.

“Then I totally forgot about it,” Boyle said. “One day, they asked me to come in for an interview. And I’m like, ’Yeah, who is this?’ But I went for the interview and got the job doing Asia Pacific training and organizational development — HR things. The HR culture side and the training side. The patch it covered was from Pakistan to New Zealand, and everything in between. But the big job was China, Japan and Australia, basically. As well as in India.”

When Medtronic moved its headquarters from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Boyle followed. He spent another five years in Japan, learning the language and loving the experience.

“But this time I wasn’t living in local accommodations with a futon and scraping along,” Boyle said. “The company arranged an apartment. I got promoted to the director level and had a good time. It was a great company. And it was great to be back in Japan. I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d go back tomorrow.”


Underwriters Laboratories

When the man who led Asia Pacific Medtronic was recruited to be the CEO of Underwriters Laboratories, he took Boyle with him.

“He said to me, ’I got this new job in this new place, and I want to do exactly what we’ve done here for this new company. Would you consider joining me? You could do it from Hong Kong if you want.” So I said, ’OK, deal!’”

UL is a globally known independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise. It tests mainly electrical products and certifies them safe for consumers in the marketplace.

“In the industry, it’s called testing, inspection and certification,” Boyle said. “If you look on the back of your computer monitor, you will find a UL logo. Your printer, your TV, your telephone, your light bulb — they all have a little “UL“ in a circle, or some version of that from another company. That’s a certified product.

“There’s a safety standard that’s written for the safe use of that product — the safe design, safe manufacturing — and that is tested against that standard. If it passes, you get to put the “UL“ mark on it. And if you have a “UL“ mark on your product, you can sell it. The key part is writing safety standards for U.S. industry and then testing to those standards, and then handing out the certification.”

When Boyle arrived at UL, the operating culture was one of fear.

“We had a long journey of change and transformation, because when we got there all the employees disliked the company intensely,” Boyle said. “And the clients hated us. We did the first employee engagement survey and had a record low score. We actually broke a record.”

The company was close to bankruptcy, but the services of UL were so important that it could not be allowed to go under.

“When your employees dislike you and your clients dislike you, that’s a bad place to be,” Boyle said. “But to me, UL is an iconic U.S. company. It’s at the center of standards of commerce and safety. So to me, it was a great opportunity to be part of that revival, and make it bigger. Because it’s the only American voice in what they call the testing, inspection and certification industry. The rest of the players are all Europeans. And nowadays, Asians as well. So it was the only American voice of any size in that area.”

Boyle’s work was mostly in the people-oriented area of human resources.

“Partly, I worked on changing the culture,” Boyle said. “The usual HR stuff was done by somebody else, like the transactional work, hiring, payment, all that stuff.

“We looked at leadership, teams and process. How do they work together? How do we look at process and make it easier? How do we make it simple? How do we help leaders understand their role? How do we help teams understand their role, together and with each other? And how do we eliminate or mitigate conflict? And build a culture of collegiality? That’s what we were doing.”

A lot of training and teaching was involved.

“First, we asked our people, ’What would you see as a positive culture here?’” Boyle said. “To no one’s surprise, they wanted to be treated with respect. They wanted to own their job and do interesting work. They loved the mission of the company, and the mission was making the world a safer place. I aligned with that: I want to do interesting work,I want to be treated with respect and I want to have a culture that’s collegial, where people work with each other in a collegial way.”

Boyle and his team crafted training and development programs to develop these values in supervisors, managers and leaders.

“You’d give them the opportunity to be empowered — to have their say, to support them in their job — so that they can be successful,” Boyle said.

Eventually, the culture of fear was replaced with a culture of respect.

“It used to be that the biggest bullies were the managers, the biggest bullies got promoted,” Boyle said. “What we wanted to do was reverse that so that the people who got promoted were the ones who were supporting their folks and providing resources and talking to them about how it could be better and then making that happen. It was a real change from command-and-control to empowerment. And it worked. It totally worked. The company got better year after year after year. We became a strong company. We made acquisitions. We got bigger. We became very financially successful. All the good things happened based on that core part of the training, aligning with what people told us would be a good place to work for them.”


Coming To America

After a while, Boyle was asked to relocate to the United States because most of his clients were there. In the meantime, Boyle had married Jessica, who was happy to return to New England. They settled in Boston.

“I worked at UL for nearly 14 years,” Boyle said. “I was the chief learner. The last job I had there was senior vice president and chief learning officer.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. There was a lot to learn along the way. Boyle said one of the biggest mistakes he made was pitching to the UL board the idea to build a high-tech training center in North Carolina.

“I did all the financial projections about all the programs we would do there, what we would teach and how much of a return we would get for it,” Boyle said. “It was all based on the photovoltaic panel industry taking off and being ubiquitous around the country. We needed all of these people who knew how to install them. Same for wind turbines and all that stuff. So we built it at a cost of about $20 million. Here was a beautiful setup, and everything in there was high-tech.”

But the financial calculations that Boyle presented to the board did not pan out.

“One of the things that we didn’t consider, and we should have, is that people would rather train locally than travel,” Boyle said. “They were looking for local options. The first few months were great because everyone in South Carolina and North Carolina came to our center. Six months later, it dried up. What happened? Well, you’ve trained everybody. And nobody’s going to fly in from anywhere else.”

Boyle had to go back to the board and admit he made a $20 million mistake.

“I was very nervous, because $20 million is a lot of money,” Boyle said. “My boss said, ’No, don’t worry about it. It’s business. And we need to figure out what we are going to do with the center now.’ After I presented what had happened, the first question for me was, ’Patrick, what did you learn from this?’ I was able to say we made assumptions about travel that we never even thought about. The second question was, ’How are you now going to make the same amount of money with a different plan?’ I said, ’Yes, we do have a plan. We’re working on it. And we will be back to tell you what we’re going to do.’”

Boyle later returned to the board with another plan, and it worked out well.

“That mistake was the price of learning how to do things properly,” he said. “I had never run a profit-and-loss before. I’d never run a profit business until I was rotated into that profit business. That was the most difficult two years of my entire career. But at the end of the day, the center worked out. We used it for many different purposes. We didn’t make the same amount of money, but lots of different little bits all added up to the same, which was a different way of looking at it.”

When his boss retired, Boyle thought it might be time for him to retire too. So he did. Then COVID hit.

“I had just retired from UL, and we had this place in Vermont we had bought that needed a lot of work,” Boyle said. “We bought it from a bank when it was in foreclosure. Then my wife suggested, ’Why don’t we move up to Vermont and just live there? A house in Boston is an expensive proposition. Let’s sell it and use the proceeds to finish up in Vermont.’”

His wife works in pharmaceuticals and can work remotely. And, she suggested, Boyle could find a job in Vermont. Just as they moved, Boyle found an advertisement for the VMEC job and applied.

“It was kind of the stuff I used to do at Medtronic and UL,” Boyle said. “I focus on organizational effectiveness, like leadership, people, teams and process. How does that all work together to get you the best outcome?”


Vermont Manufacturing

According to Boyle, the majority of Vermont manufacturers are small, employing on average 20 people.

“In Vermont, companies that employ between 10 and 50 people represent 37% of the manufacturers,” Boyle said. “Employing 51 to 100 people is another 19%, and 101 to 500 is another 28%. Mostly we’re dealing with small and medium-sized manufacturers.”

VMEC receives bipartisan funding grants from Congress to provide services.

“The idea is that small and medium-sized manufacturers can improve and grow,” Boyle said. “The majority of the supply chain in the U.S. is small and medium-sized manufacturers, and many of them are of a size — and particularly here in Vermont — where getting the kind of expertise that VMEC can deliver is a big cost. If you go to a consultancy or some other expert professional firm, it usually comes with a big price tag. That’s why small and medium-sized manufacturers are unable to really access that.”

With VMEC, the congressional grant allows small and medium-sized manufacturers to work with experts.

“These are midcareer or late-career hires who have been there and done that,” Boyle said. “So, you can apply that grant to give these small and medium-sized manufacturers equitable access to the skill sets they need to advise them to get better. We bring all of that expertise. Whatever they’re doing in their manufacturing operation, we can help them do it better. We can help them improve it.”

While the cost of professional services, advice and advisory has to be low, the level of expertise and experience needs to be credible.

“There are a few groups who may compete here,” Boyle said. “That said, we also introduce third parties to our clients and help facilitate support that we have no capability to provide. We are often a conduit for smaller advisory service groups to access the sector we work in. This seems to work well. We see potential to collaborate with other groups providing services to the small and medium-sized manufacturers.”

Since its founding, VMEC has helped more than 895 Vermont manufacturers.

Vermont is not a mass production kind of state. It’s a niche manufacturing kind of state, and that niche is doing surprisingly well, Boyle said.

“I’ve been pleasantly, happily surprised,” he said. “We are not mass manufacturers here in Vermont. There’s no thousands of people churning out millions of widgets, right? What we’re doing here in Vermont, on the whole, is that we’re fairly highly tech, highly skilled, good at providing niche products, good products, high-quality products in smaller numbers to other manufacturers who are putting what we make into other products. We don’t need a lot of people per manufacturer to do that. But the folks are highly skilled here. We’re building things of high quality that others would find difficult to build. And we’re producing them in numbers enough to supply the market. It fits perfectly into the dynamic of the state.”

Rural manufacturing has its own success stories.

“Given the cost and the environmental laws that we have, no one would ever build a car factory here, right?” Boyle said. “Or a TV factory or something like that. That’s not going to happen. We’re not that kind of state. We have rural areas, but we have a good educational grounding. We’ve got the University of Vermont and Vermont Tech. We’re producing technically gifted students. And we’re employing technically gifted kids from school who are not university educated, but who can operate machinery and be taught through other means how to operate in a high-skilled machine shop environment. We have good human resources here. And the size and scale of how we’re operating is not falling afoul of greenness and keeping the environment clean.”

Attracting new people to manufacturing — workforce development — is an issue, of course.

“When you think of manufacturing, a lot of people think of the ’dark satanic mills’ of the 19th century, where everyone’s standing there boringly doing one thing day and night,” Boyle said. “That’s something that comes to people’s mind — manufacturing is dirty, dangerous and environmentally unsound.

“But in fact it’s completely changed. It’s clean and green. It’s not repetitive anymore. You need to have skill. You need to be empowered to have suggestions about how you do your process.”

Manufacturing is green by default, Boyle said.

“It’s green because in the manufacturing of the last 15 years, we hate waste,” he said. “We don’t want to waste anything. Waste is a cost. And if we discard something, that’s a cost to us. So manufacturers are headed for zero waste, zero emissions. We have the green part, and we have the clean part, and the monotonous repetitiveness is now being automated so that people can work on higher-order type of activities.”

Boyle pointed out that retaining employees also plays an equally important part in workforce development.

“We talked about that environment of collegiality, empowerment, owning the job; that’s the kind of thing that keeps people around,” he said. “The more people do that, the less likely it is that people will leave. And if you get a good reputation, it may attract others. So that’s a big one.”

Recruiting manufacturing employees from other industries is also an option. Boyle said.

“We help manufacturers hire people from industries that have nothing to do in manufacturing,” he said. “Where people might think, ’I could never work in manufacturing, because you need a lot of specialist training or a degree or a certificate.’ Well, that’s not true.”

Many Vermont companies, with help from VMEC, are building internal training programs.

“Come in and we will train you what to do,” he said. “I just went to a Vermont precision tool shop and talked to a woman there. Her name was Emily, and she was working a big machine that made small valves. I asked what she did before this and she said, ’I was a waitress in a pizza shop.’ I said, ’How did you get in here and how come you can use the machines?’ She said, ’Oh, they brought me in. They have this great job-training program, and now I can do this. I never thought this was possible — and I’m loving it.’”

Continuous improvement and cost reduction make the manufacturing process better, faster, cheaper and of higher quality. There’s always something more a company can do, Boyle said. Finding growth opportunities is also a big issue.

“How can we actually sell more of our products?” he said. “We know how to manufacture, but we’re not very good at selling. So how do we get advice about what channels we should use? Where we can advertise what kind of platforms we can join? How can people find us? There are ways to do that. There are tools and processes so you can help people to do that.”

Technology is another issue for manufacturers.

“They are looking to innovate their process,” Boyle said. “They can automate certain parts of it. And then you move the people from those automated areas to other areas where they’re more high value. These are the top challenges that manufacturers told us they’re facing. And we provide a suite of services in each one of those areas.”

Photo: Center Director and CEO of VMEC, Patrick Boyle. Photo: Baldwin Photography

Photo: Center Director and CEO of VMEC, Patrick Boyle. Photo: Baldwin Photography


Vermont Strong

Despite the state’s small population, small and medium-sized manufacturing can flourish in Vermont, Boyle said.

“Research and development is really kind of big here,” Boyle said. “People like to invent stuff and try new stuff. Because when you’re doing the best you can with a component, you need a lot of thinking about how can we do it in such a way that’s better or different from competitors. That thinking is alive and well here in Vermont. I have been super impressed by the manufacturing processes of the places I visit — by their ingenuity, by the innovation. I was like, ‘Wow! This is amazing. Who knew all this?’ 

“So if we could help them in any way, make that better, employ more people, keep jobs in Vermont, make more money — help them do whatever it might be that they’re trying to do — then it’s a win-win for everybody. And they can afford us, because we’re at a lower rate than the market.”

Boyle’s “retirement” job seems to be a perfect fit.

“I’m enjoying working with the people at VMEC and with the manufacturers in Vermont,” Boyle said. “I have no thoughts of an end date. This is such fun, and there’s so much work to do that we can help with. Just recently with the floods, we were able to offer help. It’s such a great mission to strengthen more manufacturers. I have no thoughts of ending that yet.”

Joyce Marcel is a journalist in southern Vermont. In 2017, she was named best business magazine profile writer in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. She is married to Randy Holhut, the news editor/acting operations manager of The Commons, a weekly newspaper in Brattleboro.