Smaller Manufacturing Sector Still Relevant

Tony Fernandez said that, when a long-time Springfield official came to visit him recently at Baystate Metal Solutions’ Armory Street plant, this individual confessed that he long believed the property in question was abandoned and unoccupied. In fact, it had been humming — sometimes at a faster pace than others — for nearly 40 years.
This episode could effectively serve as a metaphor for the region’s manufacturing sector as a whole. To many, this industry is like that property on Armory Street: people drive by, figuratively, look at it quickly, and think there’s nothing going on there — that its day has passed.
In defense of that Springfield official, it would be easy to think this property was abandoned. Once a stable of sorts for the horses in Springfield’s mounted police patrol, it had certainly seen better days and looked shuttered (some renovations are now in progress). And in defense of those who see the manufacturing sector as a once-proud but now rather insignificant part of the region’s economy — well, it might be easy to think that, as well.
But as in the case of the Baystate complex, with the manufacturing sector, one just needs to look a little more closely.
Indeed, as the stories in this issue of BusinessWest relate, there is still a thriving manufacturing sector in this region. In truth, it’s a fraction of its once-massive size, but there is still depth, diversity, jobs, and resilience.
As the stories on Baystate and Hazen Paper reveal, manufacturing companies in this region — and all others — must, even if they’ve been around for 85 years (Hazen) or since 1973 (Baystate), adapt, change, diversify, and create ways to be ever-more resilient.
At Hazen, the third-generation paper converter still counts basic laminating work as its bread and butter. But in recent years, it has created and expanded a holographic division that is doing exciting, cutting-edge work helping graphic artists and packagers use a host of high-tech designs to sell everything from golf balls to toothpaste to Elvis CDs.
Investments required to bring creation and production of these holographic originations were significant and came with considerable risk, but the company made them, because they were necessary, not for survival, but for the company to continue growing in Holyoke and now Berkshire County and Indiana.
At Baystate, meanwhile, new ownership is injecting life into a company that had been declining for several years. A metal fabricator, Baystate, formerly Ace, still creates cabinetry and other components for everything from television transmitters to first-response vehicles on the decks of aircraft carriers.
Baystate has made significant strides in just seven months since Fernandez arrived, but it needs help in the form of local and state grants to help acquire new equipment and bring processes in house.
We hope that this help is forthcoming, and, likewise, we hope that economic-development officials, area lenders, and local leaders will look a little more closely at the existing manufacturing sector — what might appear to be abandoned, vacant property. If they do, they’ll often discover that there’s life inside.
And while it’s critical to support new, sometimes-exotic avenues of job creation — from wind turbines to cellulosic ethanol — investments in a smaller but still-significant manufacturing sector are equally important for the future of this region.

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