The Tapani Sisters’ Excellent Adventure

It took nine miles of walking and too-many-to-count blisters for Lori and Traci Tapani to find just the right tree—when Washington DC’s cherry blossoms are at their peak—for the perfect picture. Turns out, though, when they found the ideal tree, it wasn’t a cherry tree at all. Rather, it was a tree fashioned from sheet metal, re-born as a metal sculpture at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It was the perfect backdrop for the Co-Presidents of a precision metal fabrication company, Wyoming Machine, based in Stacy, Minn.

The Tapanis were in DC to accept a national award: The W.O. Lawton Business Leadership Award sponsored by the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) which assists 550 such boards in the US. The annual award honors one large and one small business or organization across America committing time, money and leadership to enhance their community’s workforce and economy. Lockheed Martin received the large-business award.  According to NAWB president, Ronald Painter, “Each [Wyoming Machine and Lockheed Martin] is an example of how a company can reach beyond its own self-interest to advance an entire community’s economic vitality.”

The award also salutes the recipients’ partnership with their local Workforce Development Board. Wyoming Machine was nominated by Robert Crawford, Division Manager of the Washington County Workforce Center.

Stacy, Minn., 30 minutes north of St. Paul, has just 1,426 people. So it’s not surprising that the Tapanis knew recruiting and training were keys to their success many years before workforce development became a trend. The sisters have always embraced Teddy Roosevelt’s mantra: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” As Lori said, “Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.” Traci added: “Ours is a community of passionate, progressive thinkers.”

Their attitudes have developed a highly committed workforce of 55 employees. That’s morphed into their leadership at community, regional and state levels, as well as nationally in manufacturing and in workforce development.

But…back to the Tapanis’ Excellent Adventure. Coming from a business committed to making metal parts of all sizes an art form, it’s no surprise that Traci and Lori savored several of the Smithsonian art museums. And as an ardent painter and photographer, Lori would have it no other way.

The sisters marveled at the National Museum of Art. But they went gaga over an imposing painting in the American Art Museum called, “An Industrial Cottage,” an oil painting from a North Dakota artist depicting his state’s industries, from manufacturing and farming to energy—complete with drill bits and bacon.

Another “must-see” for the Tapanis was Belmont Hall Equality National Monument. This was the headquarters of America’s suffrage movement. No surprise that Traci and Lori stopped there. The Tapanis are nationally known for their commitment to advancing women. They have opened the eyes of young ladies from 6th grade on up to manufacturing careers and a “can-do” mentality.

Next up? Traci and Lori trekked to “The Tiny Jewel Box,” a quaint DC shop featuring antique jewelry where Madeline Albright found so many of her famed brooches.

Of course a key part of their Excellent Adventure was the NAWB Forum, “Defining Challenges and Shaping Opportunities.” This conference drew 1,800 attendees. The Tapanis marveled at both keynote speakers, Zoe Baird, CEO Markle, Foundation, and Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN, Inc. (Home Shopping Network). They spoke of the constant evolution of how people do things, and the challenges and opportunities this represents. At lunch, “Brain Breaks” further explored how to define challenges and identify opportunities.

A key takeaway for Traci was PEW research: 87 percent of US adults understand the vital role that life-long training and skill development play in our workforce. Traci said, “At Wyoming Machine we look for evidence of ongoing learning when we evaluate job candidates, and we have been doing that for some time.”

Lori found the concept of “framestorming” valuable. Framestorming helps frame a challenge. Whereas brainstorming generates solutions, framestorming generates questions to ensure your brainstorming is on target. Lori said, “Another takeaway for me was learning how, if we are going to continue living the ‘American Dream,’ we must have a robust ‘middle skill’ market in our workforce.”

A quintessential thrill for the sisters was the awards banquet. The ceremony provided a lifetime memory for both Traci and Lori. Three awards were given. Traci and Lori were saved for last. When it came time for them to receive their award, they were directed from off stage onto the ballroom floor, which the sisters thought curious.

But once there, a large screen appeared on stage and a video began. It was the only video of the awards ceremony. Suddenly, Minnesota Senator Al Franken appeared on the screen offering accolades to the Tapani sisters, their training and development leadership, and all those present who have worked to make workforce training and development a success. The Tapani sisters had no idea the Senator’s video was created.

When Lori and Traci approached the podium to accept their award, the ballroom roared with a standing ovation—the only one occurring during the ceremony. The entire Minnesota contingency shared shouts of joy –and laughter as Lori mentioned the jokes about “our” Minnesota accent in her acceptance speech. The ceremony was a poignant highlight of a weekend filled with wide-eyed experiences.

But for Traci and Lori, both doting mothers, the weekend’s most meaningful experience was that Traci’s two teenage daughters joined them for the Excellent Adventure…Talk about role models—even as her daughter Maija exclaimed, “I’m hungry; and I’m serious about that!”