During AMBA Conference 2024, the inaugural Emerging Leaders Star Award was received by Nick VanderZwaag, Legacy Precision Molds. To read more about VanderZwaag's nomination, click here.

The AMBA Emerging Leaders Rising Star Award was established to honor the accomplishments of those who are either new to the U.S. mold manufacturing community or new to their current roles. Characteristics exemplified by the Emerging Leaders Rising Star Award Nominees include the following:

  •     Integrity and Accountability
  •     Adaptability and Agility
  •     Leadership and Initiative
  •     Collaboration and Empathy
  •     Dedication and a Desire for Growth

For this inaugural award, AMBA is proud to have received eight nominations, all of which exemplify the characteristics of this award. The nominees are outlined below.


Nick Ernst, Dynamic Group

Nick Ernst is often distinguished (against his nature of humility) as the first ‘graduate’ of the Dynamic Group’s apprenticeship program. Although many times a quiet observer, he is often willing to step out of the one-on-one comfort zone he prefers and is quick to absorb instruction. His aptitude for self-teaching and confidence to apply his newfound skills has made him a valuable asset within every department. Upon Ernst’s completion of the Dynamic Group program, a new role, Flex Specialist, was created to foster his continued skill development in all departments and to leverage his abilities wherever needed to meet shifting schedule demands of the entire toolroom. In addition to exemplifying the characteristics of a Rising Star nominee, such as being inquisitive, insightful, respectful and observant, Ernst has taken on additional mentorship responsibilities within the organization to help cultivate the next generation of mold manufacturers.

Scott Anderson, Franchino Mold & Engineering

Scott Anderson is a driven individual who holds several qualifications, including his Journeyman Machinist, Moldmaker and Design Card. He has held a variety of positions at Franchino Mold & Engineering and has embraced his most recent role in project management with character and humility. Through exemplification of key qualities, including professionalism, an ability to be detail-oriented and a willingness to share and apply his knowledge, he has earned the trust of the shop floor and communicates well with peers and customers. As described by his employer, Anderson represents the values of both the company and this award, and is keenly motivated to do the job to the best of his ability and make a difference.

Angel Hernandez, Matrix Plastic Products, Inc.

Angel Hernandez has been involved in the moldmaking industry since high school as a student in Leyden’s Metals program and continually advocates for the U.S. mold building industry through educational channels. He regularly volunteers at local high school career fairs and builds a great rapport with students through his approachable manner. His observational, inquisitive nature has given way to a variety of great suggestions to improve aspects of the business that impact recruitment, including handouts, displays and the company website. Through his initiative, he has become a critical “go-to” leader in multiple areas within the company’s three-shift operation, and his efforts have been instrumental in initiatives to minimize downtown and increase capacity. Most of all, Hernandez exemplifies the traits of a rising star in the industry through his ability to wear many hats and go above and beyond what most would consider his typical job role.

Jonny Salter, TK Mold & Engineering

Jonny Salter started in the skilled trades back in 2014 and has worked his way from training on the manual boring mill to CNC programming and mold design. He has shown tremendous tenacity and grit, which has led to him taking on a leadership role at a young age at TK Mold & Engineering while simultaneously completing his journeyman training and starting a family. He regularly impacts individual areas and the shop as a whole through such efforts as the creation of workload capacity tools, process improvements and the implementation of key principles drawn from the EOS framework. His curiosity, determinedness, openness and desire for growth and development have solidified Salter as a leader within his organization, and these characteristics also drive Salter’s path as a rising star within the U.S. mold manufacturing industry.

Noah Anderson, Wepco Plastics

Although he joined the U.S. mold manufacturing industry just two years ago, Noah Anderson already has made an impact. In addition to his professional development through AMBA events and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, he drives student engagement through facility tours and industry events, like the recent plant tour workshop hosted by the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network. In addition to his community-specific efforts, Anderson has spearheaded 5S efforts in the toolroom, is always willing to “do more” and embodies the mantra of “Never Stop Improving.”

Victoria Rooke, Westminster Tool

Victoria Rooke is currently responsible for CNC machining, inspecting, team improvements, job processing and project management support. As a shop floor leader, she is responsible for not just leading by example but motivating and inspiring the team on a daily basis. She has stepped up to participate in a variety of panels at various manufacturing events, drive community engagement and has been a particular advocate for women in manufacturing. Rooke has been recognized in “Women Breaking the Mold” through Plastics News. 

MJ Belmont, Westminster Tool

MJ Belmont is an active contributor to both technical and professional skill development both inside and outside his company. Internally, he is currently serving in a mentorship role and training role, while externally, he is a frequent collaborator with Moldex3D Moldflow Simulation Software, helping other machine shops utilize this technology to help troubleshoot moldmaking risks in the design phase. His latest technical training contributions include working with metal 3D printing to both serve customers using this new technology and discover new opportunities to optimize its use on the shop floor at Westminster Tool. Belmont has gone above and beyond to embrace U.S. mold manufacturing through tradeshow presentations and personal connections through the AMBA community. Belmont exemplifies leadership and a lifelong commitment to learning and generosity through his willingness to share knowledge with others, an innate ability to adapt in any technical field and an openness to peer collaboration.