No matter how many assurances we get, the fact is, the announcement by Greatbatch Inc. that it's moving its headquarters and top four executives to Frisco, Texas, is troubling. The medical device and battery manufacturer, now based in Clarence, employs nearly 700 local workers. The move of the headquarters and raises speculation about the company's long-term future here.
CEO Thomas J. Hook says there's no reason to worry. He says the bulk of the company's employees will remain at its offices and plants in Clarence and Alden. Hook said the company remains "fully committed" to its Western New York operations, but that moving to Texas is part of the company's "strategic evolution" to grow Greatbatch and potentially acquire other companies in an area with a natural concentration of similar industries. He also said overall growth for the company could even mean more jobs here in the future.
Of course, we desperately hope all this is true. But conditioned as we are by history, Western New Yorkers can't help but imagine the worst: that these relocated executives are really scouts doing the advance planning and prep work needed to eventually consolidate their business somewhere where it's warmer and the cost of doing business is cheaper. Sure, they aren't moving any manufacturing jobs right now. But what about in 10 years, or 20, when company leaders' local connection and affinity for to this region fade to a dim memory? As it stands, the company announced its headquarters relocation plans only eight months after the death of company founder Wilson Greatbatch, a man who raised his own family in Clarence and built Greatbatch up as a local manufacturing giant — one of the few we have left.
Hook, himself a Western New York native, personally pledged his company's ongoing commitment to the region, and to maintain its existing corporate research and development and manufacturing functions here. Time will tell. This is a situation in which the insecurities so fundamental to our community cannot be easily relieved with words.
If anything, the announcement by Greatbatch should serve as a wake-up call to all the local, regional and state agencies that promote economic development here. We can't take the corporate players in our region for granted while we try to romance new businesses and give tax breaks to small-time retailers.
Maintaining ties with companies and manufacturers that employ hundreds of people means not waiting for them to come to us for help. We need to aggressively maintain our relationships with these heavy hitters and be an active and ongoing partner in their success. Maybe that way, they'll be a little more reluctant to leave us.