Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 21, 2014

Production line up

Local manufacturers expanding despite tough economy for industry

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Innovation.

Using just one word, that’s how RubberForm president Bill Robbins described something manufacturers need in order to be successful.

RubberForm Recycled Products, a city-based manufacturer of recycled rubber products for the traffic safety, home improvement, shipping and marine products industries, went online in 2007. Working with Liberty Tire, RubberForm would recycle rubber, mostly from old tires, and manufacture new products.

Recession hit the country the same year, putting a damper on Robbins’ expectations for the Michigan Street facility. But by 2010, he said, RubberForm was back in the black, even doubling sales the following year.

Keeping up with technology and finding cost-effective ways to produce quality products that meet businesses’ needs are how RubberForm got through the recession. It’s how the firm does business in any economic cycle, Robbins said.

”What we’re doing here is innovating useful products out of recycled material, plastic, rubber,” he said. “What’s the best material?”

RubberForm will be making rubber curbs for roundabouts in a few municipalities that’ll be longer lasting and more durable. The company also makes traffic sign bases, parking lot wheel stops, road ramps, umbrella and table bases. 

Manufacturing continues to take it on the chin in New York state, meaning companies have had to be creative to stay afloat. The Department of Labor said in March that manufacturing employment in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area declined by about 600 jobs over the past 12 months, leaving a total of 50,100 people employed in factories and small shops.

Behind the depressed numbers, there are some good things happening in manufacturing. Activity stayed flat in February compared to January, according to a report from Niagara University economist Jay Walker. Nationally, reports say activity increased in March.

So, keeping up with technology and staying in touch with customer needs has been vital.

For example, one popular RubberForm product grew out of a specific need. Construction firms are using RubberForm’s portable electric cable support towers, which help workers adhere to OSHA’s standards of keeping wire and cables off of the ground.

”That’s a big issue,” Robbins said.

A few local manufacturers are doing well:

• Candlelight Cabinetry saw an 18 percent increase in business in 2013, according to co-owner Bob Sanderson. So far in 2014, business is up 20 percent for the West Avenue manufacturer from where it was a year ago.

Candlelight builds cabinetry, doors, frames and similar products for dealers to sell. The company works with dealers throughout the state, as well as in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New England, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Looking for space to expand in the future, beginning in 2006 Candlelight started acquiring property including a portion of Michigan Street, then the 120,000 square foot vacant mill across the street. In 2007, Candlelight Cabinetry saw a 20 percent increase in business and the land acquisitions were considered a smart move. Then the housing market fell apart and expansion plans were shelved.

Now, as a result of the growth seen over the last couple of years, Candlelight is expanding to the other side on Michigan Street. That building, located on the west side of the facility, was a flour mill until 2004, grinding wheat for Robin Hood and Multifoods. The east side of Candlelight was once Corson’s Printing.

The expansion will see the assembly line doubling in size as well as the addition of approximately 40 positions over the next year or so, Sanderson said.

Candlelight currently employs about 200 people and offers products with 10 different kinds of wood and over 200 different finishes. Sanderson said Candlelight’s flexibility and quality are the reasons for the company’s success.

• Gooding Co., Lockport’s oldest industrial company, will be adding 14,000 square feet of production space at its 5568 Davison Road location. The current location is 16,500 square feet, but not all of it is used for production. The 137-year-old printing company is a manufacturer of inserts and outserts for the pharmaceutical and medical industries

Gooding Co. President Jerry Hace met with the Town of Lockport Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors last summer and told them Gooding had added several new machines in the preceding year, including one machine in particular that can fold a paper insert over 200 times. Sales had risen by 20 percent since 2011 and now approached $6.5 million a year, he said.

The $900,000 expansion could lead to adding as many as 10 jobs to an already 35-person workforce.

• Diversified Manufacturing Inc. expanded last year, adding 37,000 square feet to its 410 Ohio St. location, to make room for employees and operations of a sister company, Amherst-based Ipac Inc. The size of DMI’s workforce under one Ohio Street roof grew to 165.

Diversified designs, manufactures and assembles precision equipment and parts for various industries including medical/pharmaceutical, chemical, energy, green energy and the golfing industries.

• Bison Bag Co., Inc. is planning a 50,000-square-foot expansion that would nearly double the size of its Crown Drive location and require up to 10 new employees.

Expansion represents a cash investment of $1.5 million to $2 million. The company plans on starting construction before the end of the year.

The packaging manufacturer began in 1968 in the Town of Tonawanda, then relocated to the Lockport Town IDA Park in 1998. Bison Bag currently employs about 70 people.

“If you stay stagnant, you fall behind and it’s tough to play catch up,” Chief Operating Officer James Streicher, Jr. told the IDA Board of Directors in February.

Zgoda told the IDA the company plans on starting construction before the end of the year.

For years manufacturing in Lockport was symbolized by the Harrison Radiator plant, which eventually became Delphi Thermal Systems and now General Motors Components Holdings. Now the manufacturing tradition continues, playing a role in developing Lockport. The old Harrison facility on Walnut has become the Harrison Place complex, the home for a number of businesses and organizations. Harrison Place also went through a $3 million renovation.

Among those is Trek, Inc., the electronic instruments manufacturer that moved its production from Medina to a 50,000 square-foot spot in Harrison Place Building 4. There are about 30 businesses and the Challenger Center of Orleans, Niagara and Erie Counties that call Harrison Place home.

“The Lockport area has a manufacturing history. Many who work here are the children, grandchildren of workers. They have a deep understanding of quality,” Sanderson said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.