By Hank Russell
Patrick Boyle, the executive director of IgniteLI, the Manufacturing Consortium of Long Island, came to LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) to address the state of manufacturing on Long Island. He pointed out the changes in the region’s manufacturing sector and what the industry could mean for Long Islanders.
There are 3,000 manufacturers on Long Island employing 72,000 people who earn an average of $92,000 a year, Boyle said. These companies have a collective annual payroll of $5 billion, earn $124 billion a year and pay $350 million in New York State payroll taxes. In fact, one Long Island manufacturer built the gears for the Mars Rover. “That runs from mom-and-pop shops to Estée Lauder,” he said.
Boyle pointed out that Long Island’s manufacturing sector of today is different from that in decades past. “We just diversified,” he said. “Our companies are smaller and the parts [we are making] are more intricate and very technical.”
One of the issues that the manufacturing industry is currently facing is finding people to fill these positions. Currently, there are 7,642 job openings on Long Island. “We need to offer more technical training,” Boyle said. “COVID did a number on us.” But, despite the lockdown, those in the manufacturing industry had to report to work, except for the white-collar jobs, which make up 60% of all manufacturing jobs on Long Island.
The other issue is the “gray wave,” or the “silver tsunami,” in which more older people are staying in the workforce, while fewer younger workers are joining. “We need more engineers, we need more doctors,” Boyle said.
Boyle addressed the massive influx of residents fleeing New York due to the high cost of living. LIMBA Chairman Ernie Fazio said high taxes may be the main reason that younger residents are moving to other states such as Florida and Texas, but he doesn’t think it makes any sense to move out of the Empire State.
“Making $60,000 a year in Florida and paying no taxes — I don’t think that’s so attractive if you can get a $90,000[-a-year] job to live here,” Fazio said. “You could be near your family, you could be near your friends, you could be near a cultural center like New York [City].”
Boyle said the other issue facing the industry is regulatory oversight, namely the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) that went into effect under the Andrew Cuomo administration and calls for the elimination of natural gas and that all newly constructed buildings run on electricity.
This, Boyle said, will affect the manufacturing companies that rely on natural gas. “We have companies that run their machines on natural gas. We have companies that heat their floors with natural gas,” he said. “Green energy is wonderful but it’s not where it needs to be, reliability-wise, for our manufacturers to take full [conversion]. We can start and we should start, but we’re not here yet.”
That also creates problems for these companies that are looking for new workers. “The biggest issue right now is not taxes, not the high cost of living, not the price of supplies, it’s where [they] are going to find these people.”
LIMBA Board Member Ken Nevor lamented that defense manufacturers in the past such as Grumman, Gyrodene and Fairchild Industries, the latter “was popping off one plane an hour during World War II,” shut down. “I could go on forever,” Nevor said of the list of Long Island manufacturers who have since been shuttered. “I don’t think we ever recovered.”
Fazio remembered when Grumman closed down. “I went to get gas at my station in Northport and the guy putting gas in my car was an engineer from Grumman and that’s sad.”
When Grumman and Fairchild shut their doors, Fazio said, “they had to figure out they had to do something else, and it took a little while to figure it out. But these talented people who worked for the original companies that created smaller companies. … A lot of them took the skills they had and did something entirely different.”
Boyle attributed these closures to geopolitical changes. “At the end of the Cold War, defense spending dropped off,” he said. “These defense companies had to cut costs and cut production and Long Island [was affected]. It was a reflection of global economics, but with those losses, we haven’t lost that much. We’ve grown in different directions and started to diversify, which makes Long Island, as a region, much stronger than we ever were.”
One attendee asked about cybersecurity and Boyle said that is a major aspect; however, “we don’t want to think about it,” he said, calling it “an icky thing. You don’t think about it until you get hit or your neighbors get hit, and, when that happens, it’s too late.” By recruiting more “smart people” to work on cybersecurity, “we’re starting to offer things the we didn’t offer before. I see the need and we also see the need after what happened with [the] Suffolk County [government server].”
According to Boyle, 41% of Long Island manufacturers do business with each other. This helps the industry because the money stays on Long Island and these companies don’t have to rely on rails or major roadways to transport completed products. In addition, COVID proved how international companies were unable to provide their goods overseas.
“Now companies are starting to bring jobs back home,” Boyle said. “They are starting to bring the supply chain back home. They want to use more local supply chains for reliability.”
The emerging markets in manufacturing, Boyle said, include aerospace, defense, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology, but the one with the brightest outlook is cannabis. “When I was with the [New York State] Senate, I fought against it,” he said. “But, now that I am on the manufacturing side, this is an opportunity for Long Island to capitalize on a product that is in demand.”
Boyle added that there is plenty of potential for the manufacturing industry for wind energy. “Not just the Phase I parts, but also all the replacement parts as well,” he said. “These turbines are going to be out there for the next couple of years and they need to be maintained. … but we got to find the people [for these jobs].”
He suggested that children learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as early as kindergarten. “Start talking [to them] about these great technologies and how fun and interesting [STEM can be] and how creative we can get with this stuff,” he said. “Then, when they get to high school, we can talk to them about careers.”
Boyle said manufacturing is ideal for high school students who are interested in these types of jobs that start at a high salary. “There are clear career paths for [them]. We got engineers. We have back-end accountants and we have the white-collar [jobs]. There’s tremendous opportunity [here]. These jobs are close to home, high-paying, they have great careers and, quite frankly, they’re very good.”