Host Jennifer McNelly, President of 180 Skills LLC, interviews Traci Tapani, Co-President of Wyoming Machine, Inc., a family-owned business she runs with her sister Lori. From an early age, Traci learned that gender does not define a career path. Encouraged to be all she could be, Traci stepped up to the role of manufacturing owner at the early age of 27. Today, Traci is a force for change. From the White House to the factory floor, Traci influences leaders and inspires the next generation. Tune in to “She Bends Steel” to listen to Traci’s inspiring journey into manufacturing and how she pays it forward every day. (Click here to listen to the podcast)
Today’s Guest Traci Tapani
Look up “quick study” or “compassion” in the dictionary, and if WMI Co-Presidents and sisters Lori and Traci Tapani had their way, you’d see a picture of Linda Miller, WMI’s office manager and 27-year employee. Linda’s concern for others—whether as employee, civic leader or volunteer—shines through all that she does.
At Wyoming Machine
In 1990 when Linda began her career with Wyoming Machine she was hired to enter customer orders and file blueprints. It was evident from the start that Linda had both the capacity and desire to learn new things and take on additional responsibilities. As office manager (since 1999), Linda keeps WMI running smoothly. She is responsible for all financials, safety and OSHA, visitor tours, company parties and much more, but her passion for learning amazes all. After just one computer class Linda continued absorbing all things computer. Now Linda also manages IT.
And while her intelligence keeps WMI going, it’s Linda’s heart that keeps WMI glowing. For example, when Linda heard that an employee was struggling with a health insurance claim, she immediately called the company to resolve the issue. That’s just her style—the quintessential compassionate go-getter—and everyone at WMI knows it.
According to Traci Tapani, “Linda is an amazing person. She has taken the skills she has gained through her work as our Office Manager and used them to benefit her community. She cares deeply about people and she is very generous with her time and talent. Our community is better because of her.”
In Civic Organizations
Linda’s caring attitude has given her leadership roles at church and civic causes, too. When her daughters were in Girl Scouts, Linda became a scout leader. “Whatever the kids are involved in, I am, too,” Linda said. That means, add sports, music and many other of her daughters’ endeavors to Linda’s volunteer list.
As a 34-year member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy, Linda has served as president of its council among other positions. Linda believes church mission trips to Ohio and Kentucky were especially rewarding. In those trips, church youth helped rehab condemned homes people lived in. “There were lots of tears from workers and residents when the homes were restored to code, allowing families to stay. These trips let my daughters and our youth see just how difficult some people have it. The kids returned home changed people,” Linda said.
Healing Hearts with Heartley Bears
Linda is also an election judge and treasurer of the Stacy Lions Club. But perhaps one of her most moving volunteer activities is the Heartley Bear Program. This program helps survivors grieve the loss of a loved one by converting their clothing into a teddy bear.
The program began when the funeral director of Forest Lake’s Mattson Funeral Home, Paul Hutchison, and his siblings, struggled with the death of their grandfather, Hartley. As they gathered his clothes, Paul saved his grandpa’s favorite flannel shirt and jeans. Paul’s grandmother made a teddy bear from the clothing for each grandchild. The process was so comforting that in 2009 Paul established the Heartley Bear Program at their funeral home—for anyone who has lost a loved one.
Two to three times a year Mattson Funeral Home becomes a teddy bear “factory.” Volunteers help survivors create teddy bears while healing their hearts. According to Linda, survivors bring in their loved one’s favorite garment. Volunteers then give survivors a pattern and scissors to cut out teddy bear parts. “That’s when the tears flow and grieving begins,” said Linda. “There’s something about cutting into the loved one’s clothing that triggers deep-felt emotions.” As they cut, they share stories that help replace sheer grief with treasured memories. Another volunteer crew then sews pieces together and returns them to be stuffed.
“They love their bears,” said Linda. “Not everything is perfect—definitely not store-bought. Sometimes the characteristics resemble the person who passed. It’s what survivors envisioned.” At the day’s close, survivors have their picture taken with their bear and sometimes with volunteers.
Linda’s most poignant occasion was when their own pastor’s wife came in. Their pastor of 24 years suffered a heart attack and died while driving to confirmation class. “We were so close to him after all those years.” It was a cathartic experience that brought them together with tears and stories. Linda said the love in the room was palpable.
The Heartley Bear program has been an astounding success. In 2009 the National Funeral Directors Association, with 10,000-plus members, named Mattson Funeral Home one of five homes across the country to receive its “Best of the Best Award.” Now funeral homes and other organizations across the country have similar programs. In 2012, President Obama issued The President’s Volunteer Service Award for the Heartley Bear program. In the eight years Linda has volunteered she has missed only three sessions—two were for the weddings of her daughters.
Like Mother; Like Daughters
As you may have guessed, Linda’s daughters are also compassionate, successful young women. Paula graduated from Augustana University—Sioux Falls, and is an RN who also served in the Peace Corps. Crystal graduated from Concordia College—Moorhead with a music degree. Linda and husband Doug are now empty nesters enjoying their grandson and awaiting the arrival of another in December. But don’t expect Linda to slow down any time soon. Besides WMI, there’s always someone—or an organization—that needs her help—and she’s more than eager to assist.
When people order a part from Wyoming Machine, they usually think quality, timing and price. What people seldom think, is just what it takes to make a part that meets exacting specifications. Lori and Traci Tapani, Co-Presidents of WMI, recently got a fresh reminder of that when Jacob Krautkremer, a Roseville, Minn., high school industrial technology teacher, spent three days with Wyoming Machine. He came to absorb what metal fabrication entails, from start to finish. According to Jacob: “I had no idea how many people it takes to manufacture a part. So many people need to work so well together to create a perfect part.”
WMI employees from the Tapani sisters and engineering, to production, quality control and packaging, eagerly assisted Jacob. He even toured a WMI vendor’s painting facility.
Government Grants Doing Good
Jacob’s internship was made possible via funding from the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act IV, passed in 2006. Its purpose is to fund programs to enhance secondary and post-secondary education and career development for technical education. Funding is channeled to career and technical education consortiums across the country at the secondary and post secondary levels. Jacob’s internship will help him develop a manufacturing curriculum for Roseville High School which he will lead, pending the passage of a bonding bill.
According to Jacob, “We’re even hoping to include internships at manufacturers so our students get real world experience that will help them know if manufacturing is a viable option before they graduate.” These days Roseville schools are encouraging students to learn about careers as early as seventh and eighth grade beginning with student interest surveys.
Wyoming Machine at the Forefront
WMI has sent employees to share manufacturing career experiences with eighth graders in area schools. And school tours at WMI? For many years. In fact, the Tapani sisters are national leaders in workforce training and development having won numerous national honors. It’s all a part of helping students find good-paying careers without a four-year degree. It’s also about filling the Manufacturing Institute’s estimate of 2,000,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled in the next 10 years.
Reaping Results at Pine Technical and Community College
Such efforts are beginning to pay off. Pine Technical and Community College (PTCC) in Pine City, Minn., is experiencing record enrollment this fall. President Joe Mulford believes that the increased emphasis on uniting high school and technical college teachers with employers is creating better curricula and more inspired students. The increased enrollment is proof of that.
PTCC even “shares” equipment with area high schools. “We take it to them,” said Joe. “We load it in a trailer—lathe, mill, desktop CNC controller—for student exposure. They keep it for a month to try it out. No one school can purchase it all. But in a region—we can help all. We share curriculum with people, host technical education events, and bring possibilities to small schools that wouldn’t have previously dreamed of such a thing. We’re all coming together.”
Employee Development Also a Winner
Employee growth is also a factor. “The Tapani sisters have made employee development a part of their soul. It’s a foundation of their company,” Joe said. “You can get a job, but if you want a career, you’re going to need training,” Joe said. PTCC’s enrollment has increased so much that they’re adding night classes for their advanced manufacturing major. Everyone wins.”
In fact, Wyoming Machine hosts virtual classes on Interactive Television (ITC) from PTCC for employees wanting to advance their careers. They can learn and earn degrees without commuting to PTCC.
The biggest surprise for Jacob? Size and speed. ”I knew it would be high-tech, but some equipment was as big as my living room—humongous! These are automatic and hydraulic operated machines. We use hand tools,” said Jacob. The capabilities nearly dumbfounded him. Employees demonstrated their standard brake press, and then showed Jacob their new CNC model with automatic tool loading. “It was shocking. Whereas the old press took maybe 30 minutes to prepare for a run, the new CNC press was ready in less than five minutes.”
While few high schools will have the large machines Jacob saw, Jacob learned plenty about things he can teach. Welding and blueprint reading are two good examples. “If my students are reading blueprints and know how to do the small stuff,” Jacob said, “they can learn the big stuff.”
Jacob’s biggest take-away? “Given all the people involved in producing a part, I now know my students will have to learn to work well together…Students need to learn efficiency—time is money in manufacturing,” Jacob exclaimed. “So my trip to Wyoming Machine was a real eye-opener,” Jacob said.
Stacy, Minn., –Lori Tapani, Co-President of Wyoming Machine in Stacy, Minn., accepted the national STEP award in Washington DC on April 20 for her contributions to the manufacturing industry. The STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) award is given annually to honor the achievements of women in manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Institute launched the STEP Ahead initiative in 2012 to celebrate women in the manufacturing industry that are making a difference through advocacy, mentorship, engagement, promotion, and leadership.
Manufacturing faces a serious skills gap. Part of this gap is the underrepresentation of women in the industry. Women make up about 47 percent of the labor force, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing workforce. To help improve upon this, The Manufacturing Institute is promoting the role of women in manufacturing through the STEP Ahead initiative, which serves to mentor and recognize women while also leading research efforts tackling this important topic.
Lori promotes women in manufacturing and skills development on many fronts. She has been especially involved with Pine Technical College in Pine City, Minn., to assist the college with a state-of-the-art manufacturing technology curriculum. In particular, she has worked with the college to use technology to bring virtual classes to manufacturers to train their employees. She also serves on Pine Technical College’s board of trustees and in many other ways. In addition, she plays an active role in the Washington County chapter of the National Association of Workforce Boards to help communities train unskilled workers for careers in manufacturing.
Joe Mulford, President of Pine Technical College, said: “Lori leverages her experience, skills, and passion to be extremely effective in driving the long-term vision for Pine Technical and Community College (PTCC). She has demonstrated leadership within the college by committing time to help faculty develop new curriculum and guidance on equipment purchase, and is exceptional in communicating its value. Her extensive experience working with multiple boards gives her access to critical leaders and decision-makers that results in policy, which ultimately helps sustain a strong manufacturing sector in Minnesota.”
Lori explained her dedication to people and manufacturing in this way: “People are my passion! In manufacturing, we use processes and technology/innovation to transform raw materials into final products. That transformation is powered by people with diverse skill sets working collaboratively! Identifying and harnessing the unique gifts and talents that each person brings to the team is where the magic happens.”
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!”
John Hanenburg, Wyoming Machine’s cost estimator and manufacturing engineer, developed a proclivity for math at an early age—very early. Continue reading “Mathematician’s Talent Adds Up To Customer Savings”
As programs ensue to showcase manufacturing careers to middle and high school students, the question remains, “How do you get kids who know nothing about manufacturing to be interested in simply checking it out?” Continue reading “The Secret to Inspiring a New Generation of Manufacturers: Amber Carlson”
It’s no secret that technical college customized training is a life-saver for manufacturers. What you may not know is that Lori Tapani and Traci Tapani, Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine, helped make that happen in Central Minnesota. Now they and their employees—are reaping the benefits.
For 21 years, Lori and Traci have worked closely with Pine Technical and Community College in Central Minnesota. Continue reading “Internet Television Classes: A Game-Changer at Wyoming Machine”
On October 26, we received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. While we’re honored to have received this, we humbly share this award with you, our employees, customers and vendors. The award acknowledges our success in business and we attribute that success to all of you. Continue reading “Tapani Sisters, Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine Inc., Share Their Lifetime Achievement Award from NAWBO”
Kent Hering and his wife, Betsy, have come a long way since their first camping trip in 1976 where they discovered they couldn’t start a fire. Years later, Kent is owner and founder of Littlbug Enterprises, producer of light-weight, stainless steel camp stoves. They require no maintenance kit, spare parts, wind screens or heat exchangers. Best of all, the stove can be rolled up in a sleeping pad instead of taking up space in a pack. Continue reading “Hot Idea: Wyoming Machine Works with Entrepreneur to Create Award Winning Camp Stove”