Press-Republican

February 26, 2014

Clinton County transportation-manufacturing cluster initiative underway

DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Efforts are underway to fully develop a transportation-manufacturing cluster in Clinton County.

The Development Corp. President and CEO Paul Grasso said the process started when they hired Montreal-based CAI Global Group to act as a consultant on a regional asset-mapping project. 

During that effort, it became obvious that one of the region’s strengths was in mass-transportation manufacturing.

As described by Harvard professor Michael Porter in 1990, a true industry cluster includes manufacturers, suppliers and distributors but also economic-development groups, schools, research institutions and workforce trainers, Grasso explained.

CAI Global President and CEO Howard Silverman said he is quite familiar with the concept of industrial clusters, as several examples have coalesced in Quebec since the late 1980s, including in the aerospace and information-technology industries.

The Development Corp. Economic Planner Erin Hynes said they are acting as a facilitator for the initiative. 

“To do this properly, it has to be driven by (the) industry,” she said.

Silverman said the North Country already has two great mass-transportation-manufacturing anchors in Bombardier Transportation and Nova Bus, both located in Plattsburgh. 

A LOT OF INTEREST

Once mass-transportation manufacturing was identified as an asset, the next step was to see if those anchors were interested in driving the cluster initiative, which they were. 

“It is definitely something that will work in Plattsburgh,” Silverman said. “That is seen by the willingness of the industry leaders to take control.”

While several of their suppliers are here already, a cluster initiative could attract even more, he said. 

The first meeting, in November 2013, included representatives of consultant CAI Global; the Development Corp.; Plattsburgh firms Bombardier, Nova Bus, B3CG Interconnect, Camoplast Rockland, Cintube International, Solve Composites, Key Logistics and Spencer ARL; and General Composites of Willsboro.

The next step is formation of two subcommittees, in the fields of supply-chain management and human-resource development. 

One future possibility is to have a meeting where potential suppliers could learn what it takes to become a supplier for Bombardier or Nova Bus.

Long-term goals include involvement of the area’s academic institutions to make sure skills for the required workforce are taught. 

It would also be necessary for government officials to be engaged.

GREATER VOICE

Jim Tooley, head of Industrial Strategy for Nova Bus, said he sees three ways that collaboration on development of the cluster would help all of the companies involved, including his. 

One would be to attract suppliers that presently don’t have a local presence. That would help with the anchors’ supply-chain-management issues and, in some cases, could increase the U.S. and New York content percentages that are required for most municipal contracts.

To include even more companies in the cluster, Tooley said, would help all the firms in recruitment of employees with specialized skills. 

People might be more willing to locate here if they see there are multiple opportunities for employment and eventual advancement, he said.

Tooley said a true cluster also gives a greater collective voice when it’s time to advocate for support from government officials on the state and federal levels. 

“In these three avenues, collaboration (among) these companies can only help us in the future,” he said. 

LENGTHY PROCESS

Silverman said that, as more companies see the initiative making progress, it is likely they would also want to participate.

When those potential suppliers become aware that there are two or three anchor manufacturers, it makes relocation to this area more attractive, as they could sell more product and pay less to ship it.

Grasso said creation of this cluster gives the area a regional theme to build upon.

“Creating this cluster is true economic development,” he said.

Silverman said it’s important to understand the process will take a number of years to come to fruition, but if you don’t start, it can’t ever happen.

“It’s quite exciting to see what’s happening in Plattsburgh.”

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com