New transportation industry initiative takes off

ROB FOUNTAIN/STAFF PHOTOJames Tooley of Nova Bus talks about the new North American Center of Excellence for Transportation Equipment, with John Vermette of SpencerARL in background on Thursday during a press conference at the North Country Chamber of Commerce Business Expo at SUNY Plattsburgh Field House. 

PLATTSBURGH — A new means to bolster the manufacture of transportation equipment in the Plattsburgh area was unveiled Thursday.

The North American Center of Excellence for Transportation Equipment is intended to unify the various players that can help the industry maximize its potential in this region.

The center was announced by North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas at the annual Biz Expo at the SUNY Plattsburgh Field House.

BUILDING FOR FUTURE

He said it aligns with two of the key components of the regional economy: Canadian (particularly Quebec) related firms, and mass-transportation equipment.

Real opportunities are present for both going forward, he said, but there is a need to be more strategic and collaborative to build on the successes of the last 15 years.

Ensuring the success of firms such as Bombardier Transportation and Nova Bus/Prevost, as well as their suppliers, can only benefit the region in the long run, he said.

"Their greatest growth comes from their future prosperity," Douglas said.

"That tells others that Plattsburgh is the place to be if you are in the transportation-equipment business."

STATE FUNDING EYED

The chamber plans to request $1 million a year for three years from the state to fund the center, which would share space at the Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Clinton Community College.

The center would be a partnership among the stakeholders to create a true cluster committed to the success of the industry in this region.

They will be able to share their needs and the solutions they have found so all can be more competitive for a share of the market than they could be separately.

'LARGEST DRIVER'

The initiative started with efforts by the Development Corp. about 18 months ago to identify potential local industry clusters. 

Development Corp. President Paul Grasso said manufacturing prowess is not enough to create a true industry cluster. It requires collaboration among those involved with workforce development, education, supply-chain-management research and development and financial resources, as well as the manufacturers.

"Having the North American Center of Excellence be the center where all that is going to occur is critically important to the success of what is the largest driver of the economic success of our region, and we're proud to be a part of it," Grasso said.

Identity as home to an industry cluster is an important economic-development tool, he said. Site-selection decisions often come down to a desire for a company to locate near others within a given industry.

MONTHS OF MEETINGS

The Development Corp. contracted with CAI Global to study the potential for a local industry cluster, and transportation-equipment manufacture jumped to the top of the list.

So the Development Corp. organized a cluster initiative, with James Tooley, Nova Bus head of industrial strategy, as its chairman.

That group of 12 transportation-equipment companies has been meeting for more than a year and talking with educators and other community leaders to maximize its impact, Tooley said.

"I'm very happy to say today that we now have an umbrella of North American Center of Excellence for Transportation equipment to work underneath to make ourselves all more competitive, increase the number of partnering companies and the number of jobs for this community," he said.

FILLING GAPS

Examples of the local supply-chain gaps include metal-parts machining, industrial painting and equipment-repair capacity.

"Our hopes are that we can identify the need from all of the cluster companies to then show people the actual volume of those elements that are available here in this area and then either attract a new business to satisfy that volume or have an existing business start up an additional product line to provide that product or service," Tooley said.

'EXCITING TIME'

John Vermette, plant manager for Spencer ARL in Plattsburgh, has also been involved with the initiative from the start. His company is a key part of the local Nova Bus operation, as it performs multiple subassemblies and delivers just-in-time logistics service. 

"This is an exciting time," he said. "Creating this cluster is just another good step to ensure the longevity of the world-class leaders in mass transit that are fortunate enough to locate right here in our backyard.

"SpencerARL is pleased to be part of that and excited for our future," he said.

HELPING EACH OTHER

Jeffrey Lambert, procurement manager for Bombardier Transportation in Plattsburgh, said that if more potential suppliers locate locally due to this initiative, it helps their bottom line.

It decreases their logistics costs and allows engineers from the firms to more easily visit the various locations, which will help develop a true partnership.

One local supplier is B3CG, which manufactures electrical wiring and harnesses for the mass-transit industry. Company President Francois Demers noted they are a long-time partner with Nova Bus and opened a Plattsburgh facility to continue that relationship when Nova Bus expanded here.

He expects the new center to help provide solutions to some of the problems they have faced, such as workforce development.

"It's very exciting to be part of it and very exciting for our future and our strategic development," he said.

LINK WITH QUEBEC GROUP

Douglas said the center is a first step. On Thursday, June 11, he will be in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Quebec Ground Transportation Cluster, the start of a full collaboration to build a bi-national transportation equipment cluster in Quebec and New York.

Grasso said to have a group that has been established as long as the Quebec cluster is a big plus.

"It will certainly shorten our time frame to become as sophisticated as they are," he said.

The center in Plattsburgh would be coordinated by the chamber on behalf of partners that include the Development Corp., North Country Regional Workforce Investment Board, Clinton Community College, SUNY Plattsburgh, CV-TEC, Clarkson University, CITEC and Empire State Development.

Email Dan Heath:

dheath@pressrepublican.com

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