Business round table in Ogdensburg illustrates diversity of region’s manufacturing

By LARRY ROBINSON
LROBINSON@OGD.COMPUBLISHED: SUNDAY, MARCH 24, 2019 AT 12:30 AM

OGDENSBURG — While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was in Massena on Thursday announcing a deal between the New York Power Authority and the Aluminum Company of America that will safeguard 450 jobs for the next seven years, a group of smaller manufacturers with a combined workforce of more than 500 were quietly meeting in Ogdensburg.

The gathering at the ACCO USA building on Route 37 was organized by U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville. In addition to ACCO officials, the meeting included state, county and local elected leaders and company representatives from Potsdam Specialty Paper, Curran Renewable Energy, Arconic, Hoosier Magnetic, and Med-Eng.

Together, the six companies and their hundreds of workers, represent an important and sometimes overlooked segment of the region’s private sector economy, according to Patrick J. Kelly, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. Although the manufacturers’ daily business dealings may not command the same boldface headlines as industrial players like Alcoa, Mr. Kelly said their combined clout in providing jobs — and contributing to the county’s tax base — is far from insignificant.

“I think sometimes people are not aware of just how much our manufacturing sector here in St. Lawrence County punches above its weight,” he said.

Mr. Kelly helped moderate Thursday afternoon’s discussion between the regional manufacturers and Ms. Stefanik, who said her office is deeply committed to helping north country businesses survive and grow. In doing so, she pointed to several key areas where progress is being made, including a bipartisan effort to promote technical and skill-based educational programs. Ms. Stefanik said she is also working with federal and state officials to support infrastructure upgrades, including finding fresh funding for maintenance on the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge and the Port of Ogdensburg dredging projects; and is working to ensure trade policies between the U.S. and Canada continue to allow for a free flow of goods and services between the international neighbors.

Ms. Stefanik said Thursday’s dialogue with north country business representatives and local leaders was productive on a number of fronts.

“We had a productive discussion about U.S.- Canadian trade and border issues, workforce development, and the need for greater infrastructure in the north country,” Ms. Stefanik said. “I also had the opportunity to tour ACCO USA and got an inside look into their manufacturing process.”

During the talks, Ms. Stefanik highlighted her support for a recent bipartisan effort in Washington known as the Career and Technical Education program. The bill, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump at the end of July, is designed to give employees and students access to new education and career training programs aimed at helping companies and workers remain competitive.

She said the education update was needed, because gone are the days of cookie-cutter degrees where one size fits all.

“There are jobs available, but it’s just making sure we have a pipeline of trained, skilled workers,” Ms. Stefanik said. “What we have tried to do from a congressional perspective, in the last term of Congress, we passed career and technical education. For so long I think there was a push toward every student going through a traditional, one size fits all four-year program for higher education. I think there’s a lot of missed opportunities when we are not promoting skill-based education and vocational education. So we’ve been working very hard with workforce development programs through the region, as well as with some of the colleges, universities and community colleges to make sure that they are partnering with local employers to identify what skills are needed and help develop that pipeline.”

Mr. Kelly said it’s the kind of one-on-one talk that the region’s business community welcomes. He said it also helps encourage familiarity between business leaders and their congressional representative, and builds camaraderie among local businesses — many facing similar challenges and opportunities in Northern New York.

And, Mr. Kelly said there is never a bad time to showcase the potential that local manufacturing still has in the north country.

“We’ve got a place like Hoosier that is making magnets that people see every day and that you can buy all over the world,” Mr. Kelly said. “Arconic makes downstream aluminum products that are used throughout the world. Then there is ACCO that is making office products that are shipped all over the eastern U.S. and Canada. Potsdam Specialty Paper, Curran Renewables, Med-Eng. These are all companies that are fantastic assets for us to have here. When you look at the diversity they represent, it really is impressive.”

For a link to a video highlighting a portion of Ms. Stefanik’s business discussion in Ogdensburg, visit http://wdt.me/96LkvX

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