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Railroad Takes Detour for Koike Aronson Expansion:
Construction on Track for Spring
Wyoming County, NY—Not so long ago, when Steve Morris looked out the back door of the Koike Aronson plant he’d see railroad tracks. And no room to expand.
That was in 2009, when the Arcade NY manufacturing facility was poised for substantial growth, with nowhere to go. But today, supported by the resources and perseverance of the Wyoming County Industrial Development Agency (WCIDA), Koike Aronson will begin its 20,000-sq. ft. initial phase of physical expansion in June 2012. The high-tech equipment manufacturer’s 109,000-sq. ft. facility is bordered by Route 39 and Arcade and Attica railroad tracks. The proximity of the railroad tracks stymied further growth without some physical change in the surroundings.
So in 2011, WCIDA working with the company, New York State Dept. of Transportation, Arcade & Attica Railroad and local leaders, put in motion a plan to move 2,200 feet of railroad track 300 feet northward from the manufacturer’s back door. “Before the tracks were moved, we were landlocked. Now we’ll be able to build as our growth requires,” declares Morris, operations manager for Koike Aronson. Diverting the tracks allows for a potential plant expansion of up to 100,000 square feet over the course of several years. “We’ll be getting bids for this first phase of expansion very soon. Our goal is to use a contractor as close to home as possible,” he adds.
Once Made in Japan, Now Made in Arcade
One of the top five employers in Wyoming County, Koike Aronson manufactures high-quality welding positioners, and cutting equipment using sophisticated state-of-the-art technologies, including plasma, water, laser, and oxy fuel. The company also manufactures portable welding equipment and accessories. Many of the products that Koike Aronson makes today in Arcade were once made in Japan.
“To give you an idea of the scale of our manufacturing facility, we’re currently in the final stages of manufacturing a 100-ton machine that will be shipped to China,” says Morris. The company manufactures equipment for the mining and oil drilling industries, as well as other machinery for companies like Caterpillar.
Jerry Leary, President and CEO of Koike Aronson, describes the company’s size in economic terms: “By the end of this month, we’ll employ 146 people. By the end of 2012, the company expects to have revenues between $50-60 million. And at the end of last week, we paid all our employees the largest productivity incentives we’ve ever awarded because we exceeded our operating income target. Some of the incentives were 20% of an employee’s gross income.”
“Koike Aronson has been incredibly successful here in Wyoming County,” WCIDA Executive Director Mike Heftka notes. “Since 2007, they’ve expanded several times, building to the east and to the west as far as possible to keep up with the demand for its products. Sixty feet south of the plant, cars zip down Route 39, a major county roadway. Before moving the tracks, trains clanked by on Arcade and Attica railroad tracks just 30 ft. north of the plant. WCIDA, and area legislators and leaders wanted to make sure that the company could easily continue its growth right here in Wyoming County.”
The WCIDA, a state-chartered agency which works to retain, expand and create businesses in the county, saw the rail relocation project as a perfect opportunity for the agency to aid Koike Aronson in creating more jobs for the Wyoming County workforce.
County’s Economic Fortune: Jobs
“In this economy creating jobs of any kind is a win; but creating more high-skilled jobs, like the ones that Koike Aronson offers, is a real bonus for a couple of reasons,” says Heftka. “First, they pay well and that contributes to the well being of the county through spurring local sales and increasing our tax base. Secondly, manufacturing jobs have a very high multiplier effect: for every dollar invested in manufacturing, there’s a return on investment in other sectors of much more than the initial dollar invested. So there’s a cascade of jobs and wealth created. Plus, in Koike Aronson’s case, they export their product, and when a company exports goods, the community receives the benefit of wealth earned in other countries.”
“With a world-class manufacturer located in Wyoming County, we might not only stop our brain drain, but also realize a brain gain,” Heftka continued. “Over the last ten years, the county has lost 20% of the young adults who were raised here. Koike Aronson not only attracts talent to this area, but provides the kinds of jobs that will help us retain young talent in our community.”
Recovery Added Jobs and Orders
During the economic downturn of the last four years, Koike Aronson lost some of its workforce. “But now, with the economy worldwide picking up steam, we’ve added back any jobs we lost, and in addition to recovering these positions, have increased our workforce by about 20 more workers. And we’re still looking to fill several more positions on our staff, increasing the size of our workforce to numbers we haven’t seen before at this facility,” notes Morris. Most of these jobs are electrical engineers and high-end welders.
“We didn’t want to leave this area in order to continue growing. I’ve worked in a number of locations, and I’ve never worked with such an industrious, caring and technically-proficient group of people as in our Arcade facility. They really care about what they do, and whether the customer is happy. That attitude makes this a really good place to work,” said Morris.
Added CEO Leary, “Recently a Canadian customer came for a plant tour. After arriving in Arcade, where the population is about 4,000, the first question was, ‘What made you locate and expand here?’ The answer from me was simple: If we were anywhere else, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are. After over 40 years in business, I’ve never worked with such a technologically-savvy and skilled group. We attribute a lot of this to the educational focus on technology in this area. The company has several training partnerships with local colleges including Alfred and the University of Buffalo, as well as with the Pioneer Schools.”
Management at Koike Aronson credits the leadership of WCIDA and others at the Wyoming County Business Center with helping. “Governors Paterson and Cuomo, US Senator Chuck Schumer, and NYS Senator Patrick Gallivan helped us successfully complete this project. And Doug Berwanger and the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors supported the initiative right up until the final spike was driven in the track,” says Morris.