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Slaughter asks Mattel to open plant here Rash of toy recalls spurs suggestion

Rep. Louise Slaughter thinks she knows how Mattel can bounce back from the bad publicity of its toy recalls: Have Fisher-Price start building toys again in Western New York.

Slaughter, D-Fairport, made the suggestion to Robert A. Eckert, chairman and chief executive officer of Mattel -- Fisher-Price's parent company -- in a Nov. 12 phone call.

Slaughter said Eckert made no commitments, other than to tell her he would think about the idea. "Obviously he's not going to rush into this," she said.

The congresswoman said she was motivated to call Eckert after watching Mattel announce recalls due to excessive lead paint in toys produced in China. Slaughter said she felt the recalls have harmed the toymaker's image.

"I told him if he wanted instant rehabilitation of his reputation, he would announce (toy manufacturing) was coming back to Western New York," she said Monday.

Slaughter said she pointed out assets like the region's work force, availability of fresh water and the possibility of cheap power, as well as legislation being worked on in Congress that could provide tax incentives for manufacturing.

A Mattel spokesperson could not be reached to comment on their conversation. But Slaughter said Eckert pointed out that even though Fisher-Price no longer has manufacturing in Western New York, its main offices remain there. Fisher-Price also has a licensed-character office in New York City.

If Fisher-Price, under Mattel's direction, were to resume toy manufacturing in Western New York, it would a mark a dramatic shift in the parent company's production strategy. Fisher-Price's last manufacturing plant in the United States, in Kentucky, closed in 2001, when its production was moved to Mexico.

The manufacturing portion of Fisher-Price's East Aurora operations closed in 1990, and a plant in the Town of Holland closed the same year. A Fisher-Price plant in the Town of Medina was phased out in 1997. Hundreds of area jobs were eliminated as a result of the shutdowns.

Since the 1990s, Buffalo Niagara's manufacturing picture has only worsened. In 1990, Buffalo Niagara's manufacturing employment averaged 93,300; through the first 10 months of this year, the average was 60,350.

Today, about 65 percent of Mattel's toys are made in China, where wages are a fraction of what they would be here. But unlike many of its competitors, Mattel owns many of its factories there. About 50 percent of Mattel's production in China is produced in company-owned plants.

Slaughter said she intends to contact Eckert again to advance her idea. "I'm not finished with him yet," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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