As we quickly approach the one-year anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is impossible to ignore the impact that the crisis had not only on the residents of our county, but on our economy as well.
Last year, as we found ways to support area businesses through grants, educational webinars and the like, County Executive George Latimer was already looking ahead and put into motion the Westchester County Economic Development Strategy, Recovery and Implementation plan. This strategy focuses on promoting the fastest-growing sectors in our county and spurring workforce development. One of the areas where we are poised to see the most amount of growth this year is advanced manufacturing.
“Manufacturing and advanced manufacturing has been a staple in the Westchester business landscape for decades, and we have been amazed at the strength of this sector, especially in the wake of the ongoing health crisis,” Latimer said. “The Office of Economic Development’s sector-focused strategy makes us better poised to help our existing manufacturers continue to grow and expand, while also attracting new businesses to the county.”
Strength through turbulence
Unlike many business verticals, advanced manufacturing businesses have shown resilience through the pandemic. These companies have been able to persist, and in many cases grow, because of their involvement in the response. Many of the jobs that are part of these businesses are well-paying jobs that have a tremendous impact on the economy.
“Many, or most, of the manufacturers in Westchester have very specific, niche-oriented businesses, which has enabled them to thrive in the marketplace,” said Jim Irvine, director of corporate education, Westchester Community College. “The outlook for the future of advanced manufacturing in our region is bright.”
Diversity, digitization and innovation
When you think of manufacturing, you may think of large industrial plants, smoke stacks and assembly lines. But processes are changing — they’re becoming more digitized, specialized, cleaner and need a much smaller footprint.
In Westchester, our advanced manufacturing landscape is diverse, including: PTI, which is a leading equipment manufacturer of package inspection equipment; Micromold Products, which manufactures plastic fluid handling products; Metalized Carbon Corp., which focuses on self-lubricating machinery components; Bantam Tools, which manufactures desktop milling machines used to make printed circuit boards and aluminum parts; and Magnetic Analysis Corp., which has been advancing the science and technology behind nondestructive testing for over 90 years.
Throughout the years, these companies have incorporated technology and digitalization to make their businesses more
Advancements such as the use of big data, the internet of things and automation are having a tremendous impact on the sector. We’ll see the impact of this revolution continue over the next five to 10 years. And for anyone fearing that automation will mean displacing jobs and workers, it actually will have the opposite effect. Automation is augmenting these jobs and taking work that may have been exported and keeping it here.
The Hudson Valley has become a true hub for advanced manufacturing, with Westchester serving as the heart of the region with a diverse and growing industry. With 28 higher education institutions and award-winning public schools, our workforce aligns with many of these businesses’ needs. Metro New York is also home to the largest STEM workforce in the country.
In addition to the skilled labor, the education infrastructure provides a great foundation for individuals looking to enter this field. For example, Westchester Community College has offered training in advanced manufacturing since 2016. This series of three short-term workforce training modules builds skills in safety, CNC machining, tooling milling and lays the groundwork for the advanced manufacturing sector.
There are several important skills that individuals interested in this field should possess. “First and foremost, individuals must have a keen interest in working in the industry. Students have an interest and aptitude for technical processes,” said Teresita B. Wisell, vice president and dean of workforce development and community education at Westchester Community College. “Moreover, students with an aptitude for applied mathematics, science and technology are strong candidates.”
While many view Westchester’s proximity to Manhattan, Connecticut and New Jersey as a feather in our cap in terms of attracting talent, it also is helpful to manufacturers from a logistical standpoint: we have easy access to the Port of New York and New Jersey for shipping, as well as multiple airports and freight rail service.
Identifying a need and addressing it
When recently speaking with established advanced manufacturers in our county, we quickly discovered a workforce development issue: There are over 50 open positions for machinists, which is impacting their ability to grow and expand.
Our team jumped into action and we are working on a solution to address this issue alongside our partners throughout the county. We are learning about the skills needed, what is currently being done to fill these positions and putting together a solution to address this workforce issue.
Room to expand
Earlier in the year, PTI expanded its footprint and now occupies approximately 28,000 square feet at 8 Skyline Drive in Hawthorne, nearly four times the size of its original offices in Tuckahoe. Bantam Tools moved to Peekskill in 2019 from Berkeley, California, because Westchester offered an affordable alternative. As a result of the pandemic, the company has announced it is looking to grow its workforce to meet the demands for its products, as so many designers and engineers are working remotely and can use their products from their homes.
There are numerous real estate opportunities for businesses looking to relocate or expand in Westchester County, especially those in value-added manufacturing. When thinking about real estate in terms of advanced manufacturing, it’s not about huge square footage, it’s about uses of personnel and use of the space. We are confident that we have everything these businesses need to continue to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Bridget Gibbons serves as County Executive George Latimer’s director of economic development. In this role, she is focused on attracting and retaining businesses and talent in Westchester. For more information, visit westchestercatalyst.com.