Share this article

print logo

Innovation helps manufacturers weather tough times

While some manufacturers are trying to hang on, Multisorb Technologies is expanding.

The West Seneca-based company has acquired three buildings in Cheektowaga to handle product lines, as part of a $4.45 million expansion. Multisorb makes packets that protect products, such as electronics and food, from being damaged.

"We're able to expand because we're continuously innovating," said James Renda, Multisorb's vice president and chief operating officer.

Manufacturing has faced notoriously tough times in Buffalo Niagara. Closings at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Trico Products Corp. were devastating to the economy.

Industry watchers say the sector's best opportunity for growth lies in higher-skill production, applying expertise that cheap labor in foreign factories can't replicate.

Multisorb employs 350 people locally. Renda said the company maintains an "entrepreneurial" approach to its business, and invests in training its employees. By focusing on innovation, he said, the company seeks to keep an edge against its rivals.

"An important part of our process is our intellectual property," Renda said.

The region's manufacturing sector as a whole continues to struggle.

State Labor Department figures show the manufacturing job count kept sliding last year. Last October, the region had 61,600 manufacturing jobs, down 3 percent from the same month the year before, and down nearly 20 percent from five years earlier.

Not all types of manufacturing jobs are vanishing. Highskill manufacturing jobs are actually growing nationally, according to a study released last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Buffalo Branch last year.

From 1983 to 2002, highskill manufacturing employment in the United States increased 37 percent, or by 1.2 million jobs, according to Richard Deitz and James Orr, the authors of the study. By comparison, low-skill jobs fell 25 percent, and mid-skill jobs declined 18 percent. They say while the manufacturing work force is smaller, it is now more skilled.

Carleton Technologies in Orchard Park has its eye on more growth, thanks in part to its work for the U.S. military.

The company is hopeful that an upcoming supplemental defense bill will include funding for more of its Microclimate Cooling Units, or MCUs, said Peter Rose, who lobbies on behalf of Carleton. The units keep troops cool inside helicopters and ground vehicles in hot climates.

F. Eric Armenat, Carleton's vice president and general manager, said the MCUs are an example of how Carleton has managed to grow. While the technology the company uses in manufacturing is important, he said, Carleton sets itself apart by being willing to invest its own money in projects.

He sees Carleton as a "problem solver" that identifies solutions and proposes them to a potential client, "instead of sitting around and waiting for them to come to us."

An Orchard Park neighbor, Polymer Conversions, is moving toward an expansion. The company makes plastic injection molded components, and needed more space for inventory and future production to serve customers.

The process has become more technical, with greater emphasis on robotics, so e mployee training has to keep pace, said Benjamin Harp, chief operating officer. "Manufacturing today is more technical, and increasingly so. The industry has changed quite a bit."