Celebrating Manufacturing Month

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An Equipment Operator at Colecraft Furnishings operating a panel saw.

Contributing Writer
Joni Blackman

“Manufacturing is alive and well in Chautauqua County,” says Mark Geise, Executive Director of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Association. In Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties there are 18,000 manufacturing employees creating $7.5 billion in goods each year. Nationally, manufacturing employees comprise 8% of the workforce, while here in Chautauqua County they comprise 18% of the workforce.

According to the CCIDA website, “Manufacturing has a strong history in Chautauqua County, from early craftsmen who built furniture and tools to today’s businesses that utilize state-of-the-art technology to provide materials used in transportation, medical supplies, packaging, and industrial tools. Today, products and services utilizing advanced technology lead the sector…”

The September 2021 ISM (Institute for Supply Management) Index showed the manufacturing sector has developed greater agility to overcome disruptions, disruptions in the supply chain and the workforce. 62% of the surveyed manufacturers are moving toward re-shoring their materials from China. Many are seeing a permanent place for remote work in their workforce. Another shift is toward digital transformation – meaning using robotics and automation in place of manpower. 95% of the businesses surveyed think it is imperative and essential to future success.

The shortage of semi-conductors has shown how globally interconnected manufacturers have become. With the drop off in production in China, new vehicles are unavailable across the world, just to name one product.

Workforce Challenges

Mr. Geise said, “In Chautauqua County, our biggest challenge is finding employees. This is not a new problem; it was just intensified with the pandemic.

Across the WNY region, hundreds of veteran manufacturing workers are retiring in the next few years. It is an employee’s market – they have the pick of positions. With the lack of skilled technical workers, manufacturers are turning to increased automation. A good example is Colecraft Commercial Furnishings, which creates and installs custom commercial furniture for a wide variety of businesses, hospitals, and schools. According to Tom Stewart, National Sales Manager, the company has 25 local employees. Looking at their website, one can see they produce stunning handcrafted, and machine crafted custom professional furniture. They sell predominately to the eastern United States and around the globe. Erin Wheeler, COO at Colecraft said, “it is a challenge to find qualified workers in Jamestown. We grow internally by hiring bright people, offering them advancement and training so they become the high-end craftsmen.”

Geise added, “When you look at the employment base percentages in manufacturing, we are twice the state average. They are higher paying positions too. In the past State funding initiatives was tied to job creation, now it’s automation and productivity. “

According to the Jamestown Community College’s Workforce Development website page, the Workforce Development at Jamestown Community College bridges the needs of employers, the community, and individuals by providing learning opportunities to succeed personally and professionally. They also work with industries and organizations to develop customized training.

Ben Rand, President of Insyte Consulting, works in the western New York region assisting small and midsized manufacturers with their forecasting, planning and implementation. Rand said, “businesses are so busy getting product out to their customers they have not had time to focus on marketing manufacturing as a career choice. It is a great choice if you like technology, learning and being creative.”

According to those in the workforce development sector, businesses need to offer more than good pay and benefits to prospective talent. They need to offer a healthy and inviting company culture that offers flexibility, advancement and a welcoming atmosphere. Company leadership must be intentional about the culture they want to create and sustain. Younger workers are looking for environmentally responsible employers who are fair, socially just, ethical and provide work that makes a difference.

Supply Chain Struggles

Consumers, retailers and manufacturers have all had to adjust to the increased wait times and prices brought on by supply chain interruptions and delays.

Locally, CCIDA Executive Director Mark Geise said, “I speak with developers from different manufacturing sectors and our local supply chain is strong, especially in the metal parts area. Bearings, car and engine parts, aircraft parts, etc.”

Colecraft’s Tom Stewart said, “we build all the components needed for our case goods. We don’t rely on the container ships coming from China. So far we can get what we need and knock-on wood, it stays that way.” He went on to add, “however, steel prices keep increasing every time we order which is frustrating.”

However, for Kurt Grimm, President of Rand Products, in Falconer, it’s a different story. He bought the company 5 years ago and supplies defense department contracts. Defense contracts operate on a timeline and economy of their own. Rand Products is one of a handful of companies Mr. Grimm operates. He said, “the supply chain is struggling with a consistent 2-3 week wait, manufacturing lines are shut down waiting for the raw materials that used to be on time. Many small companies have had to shutter their doors because of lack of employees and the pandemic’s effects. It has been a challenge dealing with the constantly changing rules and mandates too. It’s been a long 18 months.“

Ben Rand from Insyte Consulting added, “all segments of the manufacturing economy are impacted by record long raw material lead times, continued shortages of critical materials, rising commodity prices and transportation difficulties. COVID interruptions have caused absenteeism, short term shut downs because of parts shortages, lack of employees, and overseas supply chain problems.”

Change Has Arrived

The economics of production and distribution are changing. Buyers are demanding more. “Smart” products are emerging in every sector. It’s no longer good enough to make a physical product. Consumers want personalization and if they can get it, a customized product, suited to their needs.

Manufacturing entities are adjusting to many changes; consumer demands, supply chain shifts, cyber security pressures, employee needs and employment challenges. Being flexible while maintaining quality control, security, sustainability and making a profit have always been the keys to success for a business, now while it’s still the same, somehow, it’s all changed. Our hats are off to those who are managing to make what our society needs and continue to prosper.