An Ulster County manufacturing facility at TechCity has given notice that it is closing its doors. Veeco Instruments, Inc. said it does not expect to reopen the facility. Eighteen employees will lose their jobs.
Next New Year’s Eve, the positions of a Veeco materials handler, two production test technicians and two production test managers will be terminated. On March 31 of 2017, the other 13 Veeco employees in Ulster — four assemblers, a buyer-planner, a materials handler, four production test technicians, a project design manager, a quality control inspector and a test engineer – will end their jobs. Though the 18 terminations represent the loss of only a bit more than one half of one percent of Ulster County’s 3300 manufacturing workers, this statistic will hardly console the people who are losing their livelihoods. In its federally required layoff notice, the company says it’s making relocation offerings to 95 percent (all but one?) of the affected employees.
Veeco Instruments, headquartered in Long Island’s Nassau County, has about 900 employees in ten countries and boasts annual sales of just under a billion dollars. The company’s main business is making thin-film process equipment primarily used to make light-emitting diodes (LEDs), power electronics, wireless devices, micro-electric-mechanical systems (MEMS), hard-disk drives and semiconductors.
Listed on the Nasdaq exchange, Veeco is controlled by large institutional investors, the top seven or eight of which as of June 2016 owned the majority of the stock. The company has bought and sold many businesses over the years.
In February, Ichor Systems, the Singapore-based firm that bought the former locally owned Precision Flow Technologies Inc., announced it was laying off PFT’s 96 employees and closing its operations at TechCity. PFT was dependent for most of its business on Veeco.
At that time, Veeco cited a slowing of demand for LED lights as the main reason for a drop in demand for its equipment. The company told Ulster town supervisor Jim Quigley that Veeco might hire as many as 20 PFT employees to continue assembly at TechCity.
Local manufacturing job losses may have bottomed out. They certainly have slowed. The state labor market profile for August 2016 indicates that the number of manufacturing jobs in Ulster County was 3300. That’s the same number as in August 2015. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the corresponding number was 3400 each year.
For the past two decades, Ulster County manufacturing employment has followed the national and state patterns downward. Twenty years ago, in August 1996, there were 6300 manufacturing jobs in Ulster County. Ten years ago in August there were 4500, and five years ago 3800.
Manufacturing means making different things in different ways for different purposes. Manufacturing jobs differ widely. Just because local manufacturers have job vacancies doesn’t mean that the 18 people whose jobs were terminated at Veeco can fill them.
There’s been a change in composition in the manufacturing workforce. Such categories as food and beverage, jewelry and fashion, printing, furniture and miscellaneous (including sports equipment) manufacturing include both traditional high-volume producers and low-volume, artisanal or specialized one-of-a-kind makers.
What proportion of the total national manufacturing employment of twelve and a quarter million jobs do the new “lifestyle” companies constitute? I’d guess south of 20 percent, but the proportion is growing.
Then there’s “the new manufacturing economy,” or advanced manufacturing enabled through digital technologies, new methods of organization and a highly trained workforce. In Ulster County, SUNY New Paltz has taken on a central role of providing the technology to build businesses that will fit the needs of consumer markets. Though the business strategies needed for an entrepreneurial style of manufacturing are incompletely evolved, there are hopeful signs.
Will the jobs gained from the new manufacturing in the Hudson Valley now begin to exceed the losses from traditional manufacturing? And what will be left if the turnaround has come?
In New York City, with its four million jobs, only a little over two percent of the workforce remains in manufacturing, fewer than 80,000 jobs. Manufacturing employment, however, has increased from a low of 74,900 on 2011 to 78,800 this year. That may not sound like much progress, but it stands in contrast to decades of cataclysmic and continuous losses in manufacturing jobs.
In a June 2016 study to which I’ve referred on a previous occasion, the Center for an Urban Future in Gotham analyzed three sectors it deemed well-positioned for future growth: 3D printing, metal and wood fabrication, and food and beverage manufacturing. In part, these sectors were doing well in the high-cost urban environment, CUF said, because they had connections with thriving creative industries like design, fashion and film. They also benefited from New York City’s huge market for luxury goods.
Food and beverage constitute New York’s largest manufacturing sector. Metal and wood fabrication ranks third. 3D printing has the rosiest prospects for job growth. “As 3D printing expands into new territory, moving beyond the production of individual products to include design services and integrated manufacturing,” the CUF report predicted, “the industry shows significant potential for future growth.”
Two steps forward, one step back is better than one step forward, two steps back.