The manufacturing business is not for the faint of heart. Like the rest of the country, Westchester has suffered a steady decline in the number of firms that make physical products with a resulting decrease in the number of people employed in that segment of the economy. Still, there are intrepid companies that have found ways to succeed at the business of manufacturing in Westchester.
The county may not be part of the Rust Belt, but manufacturing here has seen shrinkage, just like areas in Ohio and Illinois. From 2005 to 2015, the number of manufacturers in Westchester fell from 722 to 589, a decrease of 18%, substantially greater than the 12% experienced by the rest of the country. Westchester’s job loss in the sector during that period (-13%) was basically the same as the national number (-15%).
Offsetting the loss of jobs somewhat was a 43% increase (to $62,722) in the average annual income of manufacturing employees in the county. That far exceeded the national average income gain of 29% (to $56,591). That comparison also indicates, of course, that the cost of doing business is higher here, as well.
While 17 of the 20 Census Bureau manufacturing categories declined, the broad figures don’t tell the entire story. The type of manufacturing in Westchester has changed, as well. In 2005, 101 printing companies with 1,092 employees represented the largest single category of manufacturer. Today, wizened by digital technology and electronic media, there are only 65 printing firms left, employing 617. Fabricated metal products, furniture, and plastics and rubber products suffered similar declines of scale. The only significant growth category was food manufacturing (90 to 101 companies), which made it the county’s largest manufacturing segment in 2015.
Even though Westchester has not been a hotbed of manufacturing for decades, a surprising number of companies in several industries are managing to grow in the county. For the most part, they’re thriving by staying a step or two ahead of the competition and creating high-return niche products that they sell around the world. The most successful ones moved away from price-sensitive commodity products to value-added high-tech specialty lines customized in whole or part for particular customers’ needs.
“Westchester is a hub for deep thinking, and high-tech manufacturing operations will always have a place here,” according to Oliver Stauffer, CEO of Tuckahoe-based Packaging, Technologies & Inspection (PTI). “The key is to always stay at the forefront of design, engineering, and technology.”
Manufacturing Declines in Westchester
In the last decade, the number of firms and employees in the local manufacturing industry has trended downward.
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Source: US Census Bureau County Business Patterns 2005-2015
PTI manufactures package quality-inspection equipment for the pharmaceutical, medical device, and food-and-beverage industries. “PTI’s technologies inspect for leaks in the sterile barrier of a package, [which can help] protect the end user or patient that receives the medical treatment,” Stauffer explains. These aren’t just pill bottles, either, but include high-risk pharmaceutical products, like prefilled syringes or cartridges, vials, ampules, and blister packs. “We’re talking about products that have to be validated by the FDA, so we’re not just selling a hunk of stainless steel to a lab,” says company spokesperson Michelle Wolf.
PTI systems run in price as high as $200,000. While there are standardized elements to each of their technologies, most installations are somewhat customized. Every component is designed, manufactured, and distributed from Tuckahoe.
Metalized Carbon Corporation in Ossining is another prime example of a Westchester manufacturer that’s carved a lucrative space for itself through proprietary technology. “We started in 1945 as a small company doing a process for other companies with their materials,” explains sales-and-marketing manager Chris DiPaolo. “We started buying carbons and making our own powders in the 1970s. We now make our own highly engineered materials from raw powders and mined materials, mix them, metalize them, machine them and sell them to original-equipment manufacturers for all sorts of applications.” As a consumer, you’ll never see them, but Metalized Carbon makes components for jet engines, oil refineries, bakery ovens, and many others.
“Our big area of growth is aerospace,” according to DiPaolo. “We are part of most new programs launching right now — the new GE engines going to Boeing, the new Pratt [& Whitney] engines going to AirBus. This is all literally taking off right now.
“To do business in the US, you have to be highly specialized,” DiPaolo adds. “That’s what allows us to survive here. There are only about five companies in the world that do what we do, and we’re the only that’s American-owned.” In recent years, Metalized Carbon has opened facilities in Mexico City and Singapore to serve specific customers in the oil-and-gas industry. A new location is under construction in Sullivan County, and a European sales office will open in the near future.
Another specialized Westchester manufacturer is Bronx Westchester Tempering in Mount Vernon. The company takes glass from suppliers like Vitro Architectural Glass (formerly PPG) and turns it into storefronts, shower doors, even windows for skyscrapers. “We basically have a giant furnace that changes the molecular structure of glass to make it safer,” explains Nicole Tarpey, HR manager. The company recently opened a second Mount Vernon location specifically to focus on larger windows and laminated glass that will clad buildings in Manhattan and other locales.
Manufacturers cite factors that position Westchester as both a blessing and a curse. “Westchester is very conveniently located to the city,” Tarpey points out. “We serve the tri-state area, but the majority of our business is done in Manhattan and Westchester.” On the other hand, she says, “We have had issues with expansion — meeting all the rules. Part of our property is in Mount Vernon, and part of it is in Yonkers, so that can be a challenge.”
Made in Westchester
What types of goods are still made here in the county?
Source: US Census Bureau County Business Patterns 2005-2015
Metalized Carbon chose to build in Sullivan County, according to DiPaolo, because of limitations in Ossining. “We’re landlocked by the prison, the train station, and some other things,” he says, “so we had to find another location to expand.” The logistics of moving raw materials in and finished products out is generally not a problem in the county, DiPaolo says.
PTI’s Wolf adds: “The proximity to the city and major airports is convenient, not just for our team’s travel but for bringing in visitors.” The company’s customers may stay for two or three weeks while working with the engineers to fine tune the systems they’re buying.
Then there is the question of the Westchester labor market. DiPaolo says, “Westchester’s not easy for manufacturers. We’re competing with companies with cheaper labor in Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example.” The county’s highly educated workforce is a big plus, though: “We’ve been pretty successful in getting young technical talent, a lot of young engineers from area schools who want to stay here and work in manufacturing,” he notes. Other employees are a bigger challenge, though. “Our biggest struggle is finding direct labor for machine operators,” DiPaolo says. “We try to be competitive with salaries and benefits, but it’s been tough. If we were outside Chicago or places like that, there would be plenty of people, but not here.”
Their solution? “We do our own training. We’ve had people start as porters and work their way up to CNC [computer numerical control] operators.” Metalized Carbon employs about 120 people at the Ossining headquarters.
Each component of PTI’s package quality-inspection systems is designed, manufactured, and distributed from Tuckahoe.
PTI CEO Stauffer says his company takes the occasional shortage of talent in stride, but the pluses of the county’s workforce outweigh the minuses. “The Westchester labor market has been reliable,” he says, “and while it may sometimes take longer to find the right candidates, the Westchester community is skilled, diverse, and experienced.”
Bronx Westchester Tempering generally doesn’t have a problem maintaining its 47-person workforce, according to Tarpey. “We look for employees in the local area and use online methods, as well. In our industry, we find a lot of people by word-of-mouth.”
All in all, Tarpey says, the county is a good site for manufacturing. “We’re here; we’re staying here; we want to grow bigger, and we want to stay in Westchester.”
Dave Donelson’s pre-writing career included a stint as CEO of a steel fabricator that fed his fascination with the business of manufacturing.