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Has manufacturing increased enough for white collar tradition to turn blue?

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Across Western New York, the list of plants that have closed is very long and getting longer. Those were good jobs and many paid well, well enough to support making life and a family possible. Tulip Molded Plastics just opened a newly renovated plant in Niagara Falls that is keeping its current workforce but finding it difficult to find more employees.

The company takes in scrap plastics of all sorts and turns out plastic boxes of sorts. For example, that scrap plastic can be massaged in the company machines for a new life as a car battery.

Tulip President and CEO Craig Kellogg says a factor going in on a new plant with OSC, which built the facility and leased to Tulip, was the workforce.

"We're very happy here. We're very pleased that we were able to stay here in Niagara Falls," Kellogg says. "We have a great workforce. A lot of what we do is science, but a lot of what we do is know-how and experience as well."

That is how the workers are able to take in a variety of different plastics and ship out the products.

"Tulip is very vertically integrated, so we have an advantage over our competitors," Kellogg continued. "We're an injection molder, but we also produce our own resin through recycled and reprocessing of batteries that have been recycled. We use that resin to produce our plastic injection-molded parts and we also sell that resin on the open market."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

It is a changing field, with Kellogg saying his company is watching carefully the boom in electric cars and the push for more large-scale battery storage facilities.
"We manufacture a product for industrial and standby power and motive power, as well, and the one thing when you capture the energy of the solar, you still have to be able to store it and dispense it when it's needed," he says. "So that's another growth opportunity for the battery industry."

To do this requires a strong workforce because they have to take that raw product and run it through an array of machines and ultimately turn out Kellogg's resin. These are pretty good jobs, with the company boss saying the unskilled raw recruits get $12-$13 an hour and can rise way above that with experience.

That is why the United Auto Workers fought for those jobs. Region 9 Director Terry Dittes says everyone pitched in.

"Many people stood up when they knew these jobs were leaving," Dittes says. "Investment companies and bankers and CEOs and company people and union people and politicians and everybody got together and saw the value of keeping the jobs right here in Niagara Falls."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

Kellogg says the problem is that it is harder and harder to get young people to decide they want to build a career in a job that can get them dirty every day. He says things have changed from the day when he started out in a General Motors spark plug plant almost a half-century ago.
"Back when I started, it was very common for someone to start at  a company and spend their entire career there and retire from that company," he said. "I think it's a lot different now. People tend to move around much more. I think it's harder to obtain a good job today. I think that's one of the advantages of a company like ours that is staying here in the region and we plan to grow, which will then create more opportunities."

It is part of a push back against "making everyone college ready." Kellogg says the school systems need to get kids interested in these manufacturing jobs because the old systems of vocational schools and training programs have gone away, but jobs are there.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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