Retool WNY panel to focus on green economy, workforce tactics

Retool ’23

Mariia Novoselia
Staff writer

Jamestown Board of Public Utilities will host its second Retool WNY conference, this time on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution.

Retool ’23 is set to focus on ways of developing and training a workforce as society is entering “the next industrial revolution, where we’re going to be placing factories … in our region that are going to be taking advantage of climate tech and clean tech manufacturing,” said Ellen Ditonto, business development coordinator at Jamestown BPU. 

Titled “Going Green: Growing Our Workforce, Our Community & Our Economy,” a panel discussion is at 1:30 p.m. today at Smith Wilkes Hall. 

The concept of green workforce, Ditonto said, includes sustainable manufacturing, which takes advantage of eco-friendly incentives, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. She said there are many job opportunities that developing clean technology and climate technology brings, which was the focus of last year’s Retool conference. For example, Ditonto said, Electrovaya, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer, is opening a battery assembly site in Jamestown, New York, later this year. 

Similarly, the growth of the electric vehicle industry, she said, is likely to lead supply chain manufacturers to place their facilities in the region. 

The problem, Ditonto said, is “finding enough workers for advanced manufacturing.” 

She said while manufacturing makes up almost 20% of the economy in Western New York, there has been a drain of young people who have either moved away after college or found a different job. 

“We really do need to look now and focus on workforce training and development, so that we can build the next group of employees,” Ditonto said. 

New electrification laws and regulations on both state and national levels, she said, call for re-evaluating a multitude of day-to-day activities – like the way buildings are heated – and more niche endeavors, like the way facilities are run. 

“We need to work this out as part of our economic growth, rather than looking at it as something negative,” Ditonto said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with this conference.”

The conference, she said, will start with Dennis Elsenbeck setting the stage and talking about different economic opportunities that come with the advance of the climate technology and clean technology sectors. Elsenbeck is a member of the New York State’s Climate Action Council, board chair of the Northland Workforce Development Center, owner of ElsEnergy LLC and head of energy and sustainability at Phillips Lytle LLP. 

After Elsenbeck’s introduction, 11 panelists will answer questions from moderator Abigail McHugh-Grifa, executive director Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region. 

The panelists, Ditonto said, were selected by Jamestown BPU to represent regional workforce development organizations, as well as manufacturing and industrial ones. 

Some of the companies, she said, had recent increases in their potential employment. For example, represented by Shawn Hricko, Cummins Inc. Jamestown Engine Plant, she said, is the largest manufacturer in Chautauqua County. A couple of months ago, the company announced a $500 million investment into a plant that will be used to build “fuel-agnostic” engines, hiring 90 additional people. Fuel-agnostic engines, Ditonto explained, can operate on different types of fuel, like natural gas, hydrogen, diesel and so on. 

Manufacturing representative Todd Tranum will talk about a mobile phone app created by his organization. The app, meant to foster a “talent pipeline,” allows students to pursue their interests by completing tasks and attending events while providing manufacturing associations with information on “the types of programs they should offer to high school students.” 

Panelist Robert Kenney, tech instructor at Hudson Valley Community College, will discuss new and emerging needs, one of which is electric vehicle maintenance.

“As we get more and more electric vehicles in our environment, people have to know how to fix them,” Ditonto said. 

Retool ’22 spanned three days in October. This year, Ditonto said, Jamestown BPU targeted one specific day because of the morning lecture speaker in the Amphitheater. Leslie Dewan, who will speak at 10:45 a.m., represents “a couple of important areas,” Ditonto said – Dewan was in the energy business, she is a nuclear engineer, environmentalist and entrepreneur. 

The panel discussion will be followed by an informal networking activity that is set to begin at 3:15 p.m. at 3 Taps. Ditonto said more than 140 people registered to attend the conference, some of them coming from all over the region. 

“It’ll be an opportunity for people to talk about what they heard, maybe meet each other if they are not familiar,” she said. “We would like for (people) to talk to each other and see if there are ways for some synergies for either workforce development or just ideas about how to improve manufacturing here in our region.”

While Retool ’23 is primarily targeting manufacturers, supply chain companies that work with them and workforce development specialists, Ditonto said her team wants the conference to be “an open dialogue” with Chautauquans. 

“We think that the more sharing of information and opinions, the better off we’ll all be,” Ditonto said.


The author Mariia Novoselia

Mariia Novoselia is a senior at Western Kentucky University studying journalism with a minor in political science. Born and raised in Odesa, Ukraine, she previously attended Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University. She has experience writing for student publications and interning at a local newspaper in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Summer 2023 will be her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua, where she will be covering environmental issues. Mariia is also a music enthusiast, and when not writing, she enjoys singing and playing the guitar.