April 18, 2018
“Meet the Makers” looks into what’s new in Mid-Hudson Valley manufacturing
Why are so many local manufacturers struggling to find the help they need?
The Mid-Hudson Valley region with its easy access to markets regionally, nationally and internationally and its exceptional quality of life is ideally positioned to nourish the continued growth of manufacturing. Manufactures here are presently offering a wealth of opportunity including excellent wages and benefits packages to skilled workers who can help them grow. The Council of Industry, National Association of Manufacturer’s look at national trends and figures reports that in 2014, the average U.S. manufacturing worker earned $79,586 annually, including pay and benefits.
What then is the reason behind so many job vacancies?
That’s one of the questions Jill Varricchio, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation (Putnam County EDC) posed to the 76 registered manufacturing companies within her region at the end of 2017.
Their revealing answers prompted her to initiate a series of releases—Meet the Makers—to shed light on some of the findings. This first in the series focuses on Larry Fryer, president of Fryer Machines in Patterson, New York.
Housed in a 65,000 square-foot facility, Fryer Machines manufactures a diverse line of over 50 models of high quality machine tools. In addition to its standard line, Fryer also produces customized machines for a number of major companies in the aerospace and automotive markets.
According to Mr. Fryer, manufacturing has come a long way since workers lived near industrial centers and were paid minimum wages for sitting long hours on assembly lines. Yet this misconception prevails and is a major barrier to entry into today’s modern, advanced manufacturing field. Many individuals who possess or could develop the skills necessary to have a career in manufacturing often don’t apply because they don’t realize the sector has changed and/or they don’t fully understand what opportunities manufacturing now can offer them.
“Today’s workers are no longer “blue-collar,” he says. “Silver collar is more apt—somewhere between labor and “white-collar” management.” Many of the repetitive jobs that many people still associate with manufacturing are now accomplished by automated technology, he explains. In this digital age of manufacturing, the lion’s share of design and production are handled by computers. People who are creative and computer-savvy are typically first in line for the jobs available today and they’re highly recompensed for their skills.
The story of Mr. Fryer’s entry into and rise to prominence in the field sheds light on how quickly manufacturing technology has progressed. After completing his studies in electronic engineering, he sought a career as a recording engineer: music was his passion. But soon he discovered an affinity for a different kind of heavy metal: CNC machining captured his imagination. Like many successful start-ups from the 80’s, Fryer started his company in his garage at his home.
CNC Machining stands for Computer Numerical Control. As its name implies, it is a process that involves the use of computers to control machine tools. CNC machining makes it possible to pre-program the speed and position of machine tool functions and run them with software in repetitive, predictable cycles, all with little involvement from human operators. With these capabilities, the process has been adopted across all corners of the manufacturing sector and is especially vital in the areas of metal and plastic production.
Fryer incorporated new advancements into his company’s repertoire–from 3-axis machines that can move a part in two directions as the tool moves up and down to 5-axis capabilities that can rotate on two additional axes which helps the cutting tool approach the part from all directions. The process differs from another area of advanced manufacturing with vast potential for growth in the region–3-D printing. Simply put, 3D printing is a process that builds an object by adding materials layer by layer while a CNC machine removes material from a block to create the final product. “3D printing doesn’t maintain the same accuracy for our purposes. It isn’t as strong as what we require for the kind of metal production we do,” he adds.
He soon needed room to grow but the cost of doing business was prohibitive in his hometown in Westchester County. He secured a 10,000 square foot facility in nearby Putnam County. Putnam could serve as a hub to his growing distributorship while providing more affordable expansion possibilities to accommodate future grown. He quickly outgrew his new headquarters and moved to an even larger—40,000 square foot facility—also within the confines of Putnam. He has continued to expand that location to its current 65,000 square foot footprint.
Yesterday it was rarely possible to work in manufacturing and enjoy the quality of life a community like Putnam has to offer. Today, his highly skilled workforce has the earning potential to enjoy living in a family-oriented location filled with recreational opportunities.
Fryer Machines is a member of the Council of Industry of Southeastern New York, a 100-year-old not for profit of approximately 150 manufacturing firms with 50 or more employees. Harold King, executive vice president, says a smaller number of workers with expert skills can now produce what it took many to accomplish yesterday. Today’s skilled manufacturing force can command higher salaries and reap greater benefits than what was available a few generations ago and many diverse paths are open to pursue–from management and supervision to mechanical engineers, mechanics, computer programmers, designers and more. “There aren’t enough people ready to take advantage of the many opportunities available,” he says. King reports that “there are many existing and in-the-making initiatives that are geared to fill this growing need like apprenticeships that help people learn valuable skills while they earn a paycheck. There are also paid internships that can accelerate the placement of candidates with potential. But the demand for skilled workers is still far greater than the supply.”
So where does an employer like Larry Fryer look to find the manufacturing professionals he needs? In addition to high school graduates who have selected a technology tract, the company also seeks older individuals eager for a career change. “Most of our employees come to us at the age of 30 or over. Some can be in their 40’s and embarking on a new career. Veterans returning to civilian life are excellent candidates,” he says. But in spite of offering a solid living wage and providing a career in a dynamic field, it is still a challenge for manufacturers to secure the workforce they need. “The government needs to do more to help us open doors,” Fryer says.
Opening doors is quite literally part of Jill Varricchio’s job description. “Putnam already offers manufacturers an inventory of standing properties as well as ready-to-build sites,” she says. “We also have the quality of life that many skilled workers will find ideal along with a proximity to the centers they will want to visit–like New York City,” for example. “What we need to do now is spread the word about what manufacturing in general and our region in particular has to offer. We’re hoping that our Meet the Makers initiative will do exactly that.”
Contact Jill Varricchio for more information, 845 808 1021