CHENANGO – Being a small manufacturer is stressful. There are production deadlines to meet. Commodities and raw materials subject to price swings and trade wars.
Rules and regulations to abide by. And yet, there’s always a certain subset of the population willing to take on these challenges and keep driving the economy forward. You could say they’re a little stubborn – refusing to break under the waves of these manifold and unceasing demands.
Chenango County is a little stubborn too. It stubbornly recouped and held onto it’s pre-recession manufacturing jobs while the rest of New York State flagged. In 1990 manufacturers employed approximately 4,800 people here, or 2 percent of the non-farm workforce. At the same time manufacturing made up only 12 percent of the State’s non-farm workforce. A slow decline between the late 1990’s and 2009 led to a low-point of 3,100 jobs.
Beginning in 2011, manufacturing experienced a striking rebound throughout the county, regaining and maintaining the 4,800 mark in 2014. At the same time, most other counties in New York lost hundreds or thousands of manufacturing jobs and have yet to recover. Manufacturing currently makes up 26.5 percent of Chenango’s non-farm workforce, while New York’s percentage has dropped to 4.6 (NYSDOL).
Of the 249,962 manufacturing firms in the United States, 246,125 are considered small, employing 500 people or less (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). 500 still sounds like quite a lot, but three quarters of those actually employ less than 20 people. Enter the Chenango County small manufacturer. There are myriad machine shops, woodworkers, and other producers scattered between Lincklaen and Bainbridge serving niche markets or providing parts to major companies, international and local. They don’t get the credit they deserve.
Chenango Valley Technologies in Sherburne provides one such model. Started in 1972 as Chenango Tool Co., the business is now in its second generation, has grown to 23 molding presses, and expanded their facility to 30,000 square feet. They specialize in plastic parts and offer full service injection molding, in-house design, 3D printing, and mold making. Their operations didn’t reach this breadth and scope in a day. It was the result of a gradual process of acquisitions, moves, and new product development.
Most small manufacturers don’t grow smoothly. They have setbacks. A lot of them. It’s their ability to roll with the punches and adapt that keep them in operation, and keep the county’s economy afloat. K&S Optics in Greene has had to do its share of adapting. Company President Bill Kutz utilized his experience with a company that developed flight simulators for pilots during World War Two to build something new.