FuzeHub Executive Director Helps New York Manufacturers Grow

By John Cropley The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) FuzeHub staffers with manufacturing expertise use a custom assessment, matching and referral program that helps companies navigate the state's network of industry experts.

ALBANY

Helping manufacturers survive and grow is Elena Garuc's job.

She's executive director of FuzeHub, a clearinghouse of information and funding for New York manufacturers, and it's typically the smaller or startup companies that seek out FuzeHub's help, and benefit most from it.

Without a lot of experience or money, they can have difficulty navigating the business landscape and putting together a strategy for growth.

It's a form of economic development, but different from the continual recruiting and salesmanship that other agencies rely on as they try to attract outside companies to the region or convince existing companies here to not locate elsewhere.

"It's not so much 'come here, build here,' but 'if you are here, let us help you,'" Garuc said. "It's all about bringing people together.

"We don't see the established companies as much. We see mostly the small manufacturers, the startups."

FuzeHub staffers with manufacturing expertise use a custom assessment, matching and referral program that helps these companies navigate the state's network of industry experts.

The non-profit organization is a designated Manufacturing Extension Partnership. In the last three years, it has fielded nearly 1,000 requests for assistance from companies statewide and made nearly 2,000 referrals to assorted resources that can help them.

Career path Garuc is a native of the village of Catskill who as a child wanted to work in fashion.

But Garuc attended HVCC and then earned a bachelor's in business marketing from The College of Saint Rose.

"Plans change and I stayed local," she said.

Before graduation, she had jobs of the classic bartending/catering variety well-known to students everywhere. In 2003, she got her first job in the field she has made a career in, with the Center for Economic Growth.

In 13 years at the regional economic development agency, she rose from front desk receptionist to director of marketing communications.

"Over the years, I kept being moved and getting more responsibility, Garuc said. "Leadership was very supportive in my growth."

She initially was not enamored of the acronym-laden world of economic development, but she came to enjoy it.

"There's so many opportunities to help people," Garuc said. "I just got introduced to so many smart people and passionate people."

As a bonus, every day is different.

"I just love the fact that it changes all the time," she said.

Now 40 years old, she and husband Jay Garuc both balance time-intensive jobs with the demands of raising a 4-year-old daughter and a 1.5-year-old son. They receive a lot of help with this from relatives near their Greene County home.

Learn to listen Garuc has been with FuzeHub three years.

She finds that listening is one of the most important things she does. Every company is different in some way, as are the means by which FuzeHub can help it.

"I think you have to learn how to partner," she said. "In general, if they call us and they're looking for some expertise ... that's where we look at our network."

Sometimes the need comes down to money as much as anything else.

"The most important thing that we've found is companies need access to capital," Garuc said.

Navigating these young companies to money and expertise is FuzeHub's mission.

"That's really why we exist, in a way," Garuc said. "There's companies that have done their homework, but for the most part no, some of these entrepreneurs are not aware [of resources available.] We have made ourselves expert in that landscape."

FuzeHub does not charge for providing assistance but neither does it provide money, for the most part.

The exception is the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund, which is named after the late Capital Region advocate and mentor for manufacturing and tech companies. All told, the fund has assisted 48 projects in three years with $3 million in total awards.

One of the most visible pieces of that is FuzeHub's annual commercialization competition.

In November, seven companies were awarded $50,000 each in the 2018 commercialization contest, ranging from a smart insole maker in New York City to an Ithaca maker of tabletop greenhouses to the developer of a semiconductor substrate in Albany.

"That's one of our largest programs, our innovation fund," Garuc said.

In 2019, FuzeHub is considering a summit or larger event.

"I think we have a lot of momentum," Garuc said. "We want to continue to grow the name of the organization." The core mission of FuzeHub won't change.

"Manufacturing is very important and that's where we focus," Garuc said. "My passion ... is to market what is out there.

"We spend day in and day out bringing to the forefront some of the great people in New York state that are out there. That's the engine that we've built."

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