Suppose you were able to get an Ulster County job that paid New York City wages? Most mid-Hudson residents working in the private sector would jump at the chance. Not many have that opportunity, alas.
Your chance has come. A lighting company newly relocated from Brooklyn to the Town of Ulster expects to hire 20 new employees by the end of 2020. Its existing employees will continue getting New York City wages. According to the managing partner of the enterprise, the new people will also be paid New York City wages — and better.
The present median annual wage at the firm RBW, is $85,000, according to data submitted to the Ulster County IDA this spring. The state Department of Labor puts New York City base manufacturing base pay at $59,000.
RBW, currently in the process of preparing to occupy the cavernous 98,000-square-foot Boices Lane property it purchased this spring for manufacturing and office purposes, will offer its new team members (as it calls its workers) extensive benefits, too. Most notably, RBW pays 100 percent of health insurance costs for all team members. It has also embraced remote work habits, where appropriate, as have a multitude of other companies as of late. Finally, it’s a B corporation, meaning it voluntarily conducts an assessment every three years of social and environmental performance in order to consider the interests of all stakeholders (not just shareholders), and to offer a higher degree of public transparency of its activities.
“We are a different type of business,” said RBW managing director Charles Brill this spring. “We are giving back to the community.”
Who will get the 20 new jobs? Brill said he’s hoping applicants from the immediate region will qualify. Some positions may be filled by applicants relocating from elsewhere. An open house is being planned for late October, at which people from the community, including potential team recruits, can meet some of the folks at RBW.
Of the 35 RBW employees in New York City, Brill said, a third have chosen to relocate to Boices Lane, a third will remain with the company in various other ways, and the final third will seek opportunity elsewhere.
Brill (the B on RBW) and co-principal Alex Williams (the W) offered a brief tour of their premises last week. Right now, it’s difficult to envision from the premises the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant that’s it’s about to become. An old carpet had just been removed in one empty multi-windowed room bigger than a tennis court. There’s another room of similar size, and a somewhat smaller one in which Brill said lighting products, carried back and forth between rooms by robots, will be assembled at 20 work tables.
Except for an occasional pole and pieces of colored masking tape delineating spaces on the floors, the rooms are at present completely empty — awaiting transformation. RBW paid $1.362 million for the Boices Lane building, and is investing an estimated $5.8 million in preparing it for the new digital manufacturing era, often termed Industry 4.0.
It’s been well over a century since Henry Ford built a huge plant with moving assembly lines, building automobiles in a choice of colors — as long as the customers chose black. In the digital age, customers can get exactly what they want while the efficiencies of manufacturing can be retained.
Charles Brill is focused on how Industry 4.0 could deepen the relationship between RBW and its customers. Deeper collaborations will mean more business and continued growth.
Few if any other companies even of the modest size of RBW have been attracted to locate in Ulster County in the past few years. So far, the relocation of business from New York City during the pandemic has been limited, for the most part benefiting the nearby suburban areas: Westchester County, Long Island, Fairfield County in Connecticut and northern New Jersey. Significant recent economic development in the mid-Hudson region has with some exceptions been confined to warehousing and fulfillment centers. The number of manufacturing jobs in Ulster County has been stagnant around for several years near the August 2021 number of 3200 . The hoped-for more jobs in the services sector has not occurred, with the exception of the real-estate industry.
Employers are short of help, You see the signs, posters and sandwich boards everywhere: Help wanted. Excellent pay. Signing bonus. Salary review after 30 days. Generous benefit package. Part-time okay. Free meals. Build a career with us.
Most of these jobs are low-paying. Wage pressures are pushing compensation significantly higher. Many economists are attributing the reluctance of those without jobs to get them to the pandemic. But other forces are also at work.
There’s been an increasing mismatch on America between worker skills and jobs available. People with master’s degrees and computer skills don’t want to drive a school bus part-time or to take an entry-level job with WalMart.
For many mid-Hudson residents, getting one of those 20 jobs that will be created at RBW on Boices Lane before the end of the year would be like winning the lottery. It shouldn’t be that way.
The last 18 months has brought a shift toward digital channels, hybrid work arrangements and at-home delivery. These patterns are unlikely to change in the near future, To remain competitive, companies must harness the technology that enhances custom services and timely delivery.
Which is better for the local economy, creating ten jobs that pay $30,000 each or one that pays $100,000? Quality beats quantity any day. The goal of Ulster County economic development should reflect that aspiration.