By Dan Heath, Press-Republican, August 17, 2015
The regional transportation industry has added almost 450 jobs since 2010, and the North American Center for Excellence in Transportation Equipment aims to see that the growth continues.
Announced in early June, the center is an effort to capitalize on the region’s continuing emergence in the field of transportation.
More than 30 related companies have already been identified across the seven-county region covered by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
“We’ve found it really is regionwide,” said North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas. “All seven counties have some part in this.”
Douglas said it ranges from firms as large as New York Air Brake in Watertown to smaller businesses like Protech Audio in Indian Lake in Hamilton County.
According to New York State Department of Labor statistics, those companies had 8,100 employees at the end of 2014, up from 7,655 at the end of 2010.
The 2014 payroll was $426 million, up from $365 million in 2010.
The Development Corp. President Paul Grasso said many of those companies also emphasize diversity in their hiring, with significant opportunities for women and minorities.
Early Center of Excellence efforts have led to committees focused on supply-chain-management issues and workforce development.
Grasso said involved collaboration on those issues can make each company more productive and efficient.
“The better we understand what the workforce demands are, the better we can develop programs to meet those demands,” he said.
Grasso said it has been refreshing to see the level of trust exhibited as companies that often view each other as competitors for employees discuss the workforce challenges they face.
“They do recognize the power of coming together on this,” he said.
They would like to eventually bring more students into the loop, even as early as junior high school, Grasso said, so young people know what type of skills are needed to land jobs in these fields.
SITE AT CCC
The center is to be located in space at the Advanced Manufacturing Institute, to be built at Clinton Community College.
Construction on that project is expected to start in the spring, with an opening tentatively scheduled for 2017.
Plattsburgh makes a logical base for the center, as it is home to manufacturers such as Bombardier Transportation and Nova Bus/Prevost, as well as a number of their suppliers.
The center is to be coordinated by the chamber, in partnership with stakeholders such as the Development Corp., the North Country Regional Workforce Investment Board, Jefferson-Lewis Workforce Development Board, St. Lawrence County IDA, Clinton Community College, Jefferson Community College, SUNY Plattsburgh, CV-TEC, Clarkson University, CITEC, Empire State Development, transportation equipment companies and their suppliers and others.
The center grew from a transit equipment cluster initiative started by the Development Corp. about 20 months ago. They had worked with consultant CAI Global to identify potential industry clusters, and transportation equipment manufacturing was one obvious choice.
Organizers said recognition as an industry cluster makes a difference when they work to bring other firms to the area. Douglas said it has already paid off with the recent announcement that Plastitel was to open a U.S. location in the Northstar Technology center in Chazy.
Diversity is a key, as one specialized field within a cluster can lead to larger fluctuations in employment as that specialty goes through economic cycles.
With multiple large-scale manufacturers within the cluster, more opportunities are created for suppliers so they can maintain steady employment levels.
The center gained an immediate measure of respectability when it signed a memorandum of understanding on June 11 with the Quebec Ground Transportation Cluster to build a bi-national transportation cluster in Quebec and New York.
That includes commitments to share best practices in cluster management and identification of potential projects for collaboration.
That collaboration is expected to ramp up again shortly as Canadian firms return from their annual summer breaks.
Douglas said it is important to note the North Country group includes aeronautical equipment in its definition of transportation equipment and will continue to look to bring prospects in that field to the area.