Five Questions With: Wendy Mackie

Wendy Mackie is no stranger to the Rhode Island manufacturing scene – she previously led the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association as CEO, helped launch the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island, and served a term on the Polaris MEP advisory board. 

Mackie has since taken her experience to the national level as director of workforce and foundation development for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, but she hasn’t forgotten her Ocean State roots. Following the departure of former Director Kathie Mahoney, Mackie is taking the reins of the Polaris MEP board on an interim basis, with an eye toward workforce development and the state’s emerging blue economy. 

PBN: What are your priorities as interim board chair at Polaris MEP?

MACKIE: While the search for a new center director is underway, it is important that the Polaris MEP team can maintain the intensity with which they provide business and workforce development services.

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I will work with the board to solidify the strategic vision for the organization and ensure the next center director is a fit. Polaris MEP is currently seeking to expand the size of the board, so I will be assisting in that area as well.

PBN: How does your experience at the national level inform your perspective when working with Rhode Island businesses, and what are some of the specific strategies that could be applied in Rhode Island?

MACKIE: I would say that Rhode Island is a workforce development pioneer – we bring ideas to the national level, not the other way around.

My national role with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and its Educational Foundation has had me working across the boating industry subsectors – manufacturing, dealerships, marinas, super yachts and more – to find consensus for a larger effort. My expanded perspective will be helpful in creating economies of scale, creating replicable models and standardizing training module content to expand the development of portable credentials and incremental badging.

I have relearned the importance of industry-recognized credentials. As we get off the ground with the blue economy in R.I., we want to make sure that we are developing a clear, benchmarked and credentialed pipeline of programming, working with employers to ensure these credentials are meeting the current and expected needs of blue tech and trade careers.

PBN: What attracted you to the interim board chair position, and is there a possibility you will pursue this role on a permanent basis?

MACKIE: The short answer is I am a huge fan of and believer in the work that Polaris MEP does for Rhode Island’s manufacturers. It is my honor to represent them and promote their work in the community.

Over the last year, my work has been solely focused on national workforce development efforts for the marine industry. Though I love that work and will continue to do it, I have missed being involved in economic development work locally. I see manufacturing playing an important role in the blue economy going forward and working with the Polaris MEP provides me a terrific opportunity to be active in Rhode Island economic development.

PBN: How has the state’s blue economy evolved throughout your time working in Rhode Island, and what does this mean for the local workforce and broader economy? 

MACKIE: The most important place for us to focus is on underserved communities and bringing opportunities to the new powerful workforce. Rhode Island really does have a best-practice workforce development model, which requires collaboration and input from employers, community partners and educators. I think this provides us with an opportunity to build a clear and comprehensive manufacturing career lattice as we go.

URI [University of Rhode Island] will be critical in the emergence of the blue economy through technology, manufacturing and workforce development. Leveraging talent and assets from the university, including at the Narragansett Bay campus, will provide new products from ideas not yet even dreamed. Then, we can connect those ideas and opportunities into underserved communities to make sure technology, manufacturing and the emerging blue economy are available to everyone in the state.

PBN: What are the nontraditional approaches you have taken to workforce development in the past, and what are your ideas going forward? 

MACKIE: Manufacturing is in my DNA. Both my mother and father spent their entire careers in manufacturing. My mother was in defense manufacturing, first in electronics then carbon fiber composites. My father was a master electrician and mechanic. Both of my brothers have careers in manufacturing, too.

I came at manufacturing from a different angle. After graduating from a vocational technical high school with a concentration in mechanical drafting, I chose to go to college. My contributions and connections to manufacturing come in the form of business and workforce development. At its core, I think my work most resembles community development because it is a combination of youth, workforce and economic development.

My experience driving workforce and economic development in Rhode Island through the R.I. Marine Trades Association and Composites Alliance of Rhode Island has been used as a model locally and nationally. I am looking forward to bringing my recent national focus back to R.I. to support manufacturing and the blue economy opportunities in front of the state.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at