New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Demers Ambulances in Plattsburgh Friday afternoon to promote proposed legislation that would help communities obtain funding to develop manufacturing clusters.
Clinton County has marketed itself as a bus and rail transportation manufacturing hub. Plattsburgh is home to Bombardier’s final assembly and test center for rail cars. Nova Bus and Prevost manufacture motorcoach and transit buses.
Tucked away in the transportation manufacturing cluster is Demers Ambulances. The Quebec-based company is one of the largest ambulance manufacturers in the world. Senator Gillibrand toured its Plattsburgh manufacturing plant to showcase how her Made In America Manufacturing Communities Act could help the region. “What this program does is if you are designated to be one of these regional manufacturing hubs you get priority for federal money. And so what we want to do is make this bill permanent. Right now it's just temporary. It's in place to the end of the Obama administration. But what we want to do is make sure the bill is codified into law so it becomes a permanent program that will be here for the North Country to continue to compete for. So if we can pass this bill into law we can guarantee more manufacturing in the North Country and in New York State because we are among the best manufacturers in the world.”
Designated communities currently compete for funding under a temporary $1.3 billion federal economic development program. Spencer ARL and Demers General Manager John Vermette says a permanent program could significantly help manufacturers. “There's very little margins to be made in this business anyways. Even in mass transit when you’re talking rail or bus everyone you know is conscientious of the cost and always looking to try to shave their costs to again win the bid and expand your business at the same time and sometimes it's very difficult. Having some of these grants and things accessible to companies, especially like small companies like Spencer ARL, is really important. That can make or break the difference for us for another year. It makes a really a big difference for us.”
Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says Clinton County’s entire manufacturing sector, but especially the 34 companies in the transportation equipment cluster, would benefit if the funding stream is made permanent. “We ought to be a strong candidate for the designation which then will prioritize us when we look for federal funds for workforce development or perhaps technology support for some of the companies that increasingly are going to be very technology-based. Other kinds of investment, if there is a manufacturer the needs help with wastewater or a new access road, it could be transportation funding. It just tells all the federal agencies if an application comes to you that relates to development of the manufacturing cluster in one of the designated hubs thou art to give it priority. “
Gillibrand hopes to pass the bipartisan legislation before the end of the year by attaching it to an omnibus appropriations bill.