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Companies Share Concerns With Rep. Tonko On National Manufacturing Day

3D printer in UAlbany's "Maker Space" at Draper Hall.
Jackie Orchard
A 3D printer in UAlbany's "Maker Space" at Draper Hall (file photo)

Friday was National Manufacturing Day. In a virtual forum with their local Congressman, Capital Region manufacturers shared some of their experiences with adapting to a new normal during the pandemic and how they’re preparing for the future. 

One of the most common terms you’ll hear business operators used when talking about the pandemic is “pivot.”

Scotia-based company Tidy Tots Diapers pivoted to produce needed protective gowns.

Founder Sandra Beck says the company now makes gowns using the same liner technology they employ in making their reusable cloth diapers.

“We will be the only isolation gown that can be washed 300 times. Most of other isolation gowns that can be washable can only be washed 12 times,” said Beck.

For the Rad Soap Co., with a facility in Menands and a retail store in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, the arrival of the pandemic meant switching to making hand sanitizer.

Speaking during a roundtable with Democratic Representative Paul Tonko Friday, Rad Soap Co. Founder Sue Kerber said she was able to keep afloat with federal PPP money, but ran into challenging supply chain issues.

“I had to get bottles, I had to get caps. You gotta get sprayers. And they were using them. Everyone was into the hand sanitizer businesses so it was like...you know, it was crazy for a while there,” said Kerber.

As company leaders shared their experiences of how they’ve gotten along after life changed so dramatically in March, they’re uncertain about the future – as more businesses recover, they’re finding an issue recruiting workers.

Glenn Tabolt is President of STS Steel in Schenectady.

“For me, in terms of COVID, it’s a little harder now to interview and bring people in and interact,” said Tabolt.

Tabolt said he has considered creating a new apprentice program to train employees, but hasn’t had time.

For small manufacturer Free Form Fibers in Saratoga Springs, which has eight employees, CEO Shay Harrison said the company is looking to expand. But he predicts it could be challenging finding hires with specialized skills – a materials engineer, as an example.

“We’re going to find how hard it is to get the right people in because we’ve not…we’ve just not been…we’ve not hired folks before. So we’re about to experience that for the first time,” said Harrison.

Congressman Tonko, who has held several forums with business owners across a variety of industries over the last several months, says action is needed in Washington.

Tonko continues to push for the Senate to take up the HEROES Act, which passed the House along party lines in May.

“If we see it as a bailout, if we see it as help along the way…I don’t think that really expresses it. It’s a rescue plan. Because these communities are swimming in red ink through no fault of their own and this pandemic has reached far and wide,” said Tonko.

As an election approaches seemingly without a new COVID-19 relief bill palatable to both major parties, the Democrat-led House passed a revised $2.2 trillion HEROES Act on Thursday.

Tonko said Democrats are continuing to push for a deal with Senate Republicans that boosts funding for state and local governments.

“There’s an attempt to fragment what we do. This effort will be there for employer/employee investment in industry, retaining of jobs, growing jobs, addressing industrial needs…infrastructure needs and the like. So there will be improvements in infrastructure, there will be improvements in retrofits,” said Tonko.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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