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New Era Cap closure takes elected officials by surprise

WASHINGTON – The announced closure of New Era Cap's Derby facility blindsided politicians in Buffalo, Washington and Albany.

"No one from New Era contacted my administration or the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to notify us of this decision or to explore potential ways to keep New Era employees working in Derby," Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said.

No one from New Era contacted Rep. Brian Higgins, either.

"I certainly had no information that this was coming," said Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose district includes New Era's Buffalo headquarters.

Meantime, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the company should have taken a far different approach.

"Instead of closing down the Derby facility, New Era should immediately sit down with me, New York State and other elected officials to craft a package that would keep these jobs right here in Derby, where they belong," said Schumer a New York Democrat. "We hope New Era will reevaluate and take us up on this offer straightaway."

The company said it regretted that so many elected leaders felt surprised by the closure announcement, but added that it had an obligation to tell its union and employees first.

Shifting business model leads New Era to close Derby plant, costing 219 jobs

The sense of surprise among elected leaders stems in part from New Era's contract with Major League Baseball, which requires the company to manufacture its caps in the United States.

"The community was under the impression that the jobs at the manufacturing plant were safe through the duration of the length of New Era’s contract with Major League Baseball, which runs through 2030," said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat.

Rather than continuing to manufacture them in Derby, the company said it plans to shift production to a nonunion facility in Miami.

That being the case, Republicans tended to combine their sense of surprise with shots at the Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who spent Tuesday celebrating Amazon's decision to locate part of its eastern headquarters in New York.

"While Governor Cuomo picks winners and losers every day like his $1.7 billion pay off to Amazon in New York City inclusive of its own helicopter pad, other businesses like Google, Facebook and even New Era are left to hold out their hand and ask 'what about us?' " said Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican whose district includes the Derby facility. "Until New York addresses its tax, spend and regulate climate as opposed to buying off certain job creators, we are destined for more of the same over and over and over again."

Devastation in Derby as word of New Era closing spreads

Assemblyman David DiPietro of East Aurora, a Republican whose district includes Derby, spoke even more bluntly.

“I blame this on the governor with his crooked policies that have driven businesses out of this state,’’ DiPietro said. “He just cost 200 people their jobs.”

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican who represents Derby, said he “was as shocked as anyone to read this in the paper today."

Jacobs said he met with New Era officials less than a year ago in a tour of the facility.

“I’m very troubled because I was just so impressed by the workforce there both in terms of people working there for decades but also a lot of immigrants and refugee workers who live in Buffalo and carpool out there,’’ Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the state still has a window to try to change New Era’s decision. Poloncarz said he reached out to New Era CEO Chris Koch to see if the jobs can be saved, and Higgins said he planned to do the same.

Flex team member Sharon Sager attaches the panels together at the New Era factory in Derby.  (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The company announced Tuesday it plans to close the Derby plant in March.

The company portrayed its decision as strictly business.

"The company’s contemplated decision to discontinue operations at its Derby facility is about better aligning the company’s business model with its competitors in the global sports, lifestyle and apparel industries by moving away from owning and operating manufacturing plants," the company said in a statement. "It is not about economic or tax incentives to keep the plant open."

While several politicians at every level of government pleaded with New Era to reconsider, a Cuomo spokesman talked about the closure as if it were a done deal.

“New York’s strongest asset is our skilled, talented workforce and the Department of Labor will work with the company to ensure that any employees who are impacted will be connected to opportunities and resources available in the region," said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens.

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