• The San Juan Daily Star

How these NYC companies are skirting the supply chain crisis

Workers sew military clothes at Crye Precision in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Nov. 31, 2021. Focusing on local parts and production, some manufacturers have been rewarded during the pandemic.

By Alyson Krueger

Clogged ports. Product shortages overseas. Overburdened container ships. Price increases.

For businesses that rely on the global supply chain, this holiday season has become particularly stressful. But at manufacturers such as Nanotronics, a science technology company in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that sources most of its components locally, things are going swimmingly.

“There is nothing we have right now that is behind schedule,” said Matthew Putman, CEO of the company, which makes items such as robotic microscopes. “We don’t rely on ships right now that are stuck at ports in Los Angeles.”

Nanotronics makes many of its components at its 45,000-square-foot office and factory space. What it cannot make, it acquires locally. Sheet metal comes from Ferra Designs, about 20 feet away in the Navy Yard complex, which also houses 3D printing and finishing services the company uses. Nanotronics buys its cameras in Manhattan’s Financial District and its plastics and springs in Brooklyn, from businesses in Williamsburg and Sunset Park.

Early in the pandemic, several businesses in the Navy Yard pivoted to produce some 10 million units of personal protective equipment when masks and hospital gowns were scarce. Now companies there such as Nanotronics are successfully steering clear of logjams in the supply chain wrought by the pandemic by sourcing and manufacturing hard-to-get items locally.

“We just got a call yesterday from a company that does this gene therapy that is really important for vaccines and therapeutics,” Putman said. “They need a machine that no one else can make for them right now. I know we will be able to get it to them quickly.”

Businesses that emphasize local production have been rewarded during this tumultuous time. They have been able to fulfill orders quickly for existing clients and have attracted new ones who cannot get what they need from manufacturers overseas.

“We’ve had people reach out to us to start new businesses who thought they would be sourcing abroad,” said Joanna Reynolds, associate director of Made in NYC, an initiative of the Pratt Center for Community Development that supports local manufacturers and makers. “Now they want to make their products in New York City.” So far, the group has added 171 new members during the pandemic.

City manufacturing hubs have also expanded over the past 18 months. The Brooklyn Navy Yard has leased an additional 300,000 square feet, and Industry City, in Sunset Park, has filled an additional 800,000 square feet. “More companies are understanding they want their office, their design, their manufacturing, even their customers right next to their warehouse distribution,” said Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball. “We can do all those things here.”

Local companies are leaning on one another more now too, Reynolds said. For example, accessory businesses in the garment district are using a company nearby to print their labels and packaging. “It’s a really beautiful network our companies are building,” she said.

Supply chain problems have given local manufacturers a competitive edge. “I would say weekly we are offered up various projects that other manufacturers can’t do because they can’t get their components,” said Shakil Ahmad, a vice president at Coronet LED, a lighting company based in Totowa, New Jersey, which has a showroom in Manhattan. “They are coming to us and saying, ‘They can’t deliver for 16 weeks. Can you guys do it?’”

Coronet LED’s paint supplier is down the street in Totowa; its lens manufacturer is a short drive away. “Our claim to fame is, we have always kept everything as close to us as possible,” Ahmad said. “We didn’t know this pandemic would happen, but it has worked out so incredibly well. It shows how important it is to manufacture locally.”

Now, Ahmad, who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, walks around his neighborhood and imagines what all the empty factory buildings can be. “If you go on McGuinness Boulevard, you see all these empty warehouses,” he said. “A lot of them are being converted into high-end residential properties, but they are removing opportunities for more manufacturing to occur.”

Gregg Thompson, executive director of Crye Precision, a Brooklyn Navy Yard company that makes uniforms, body armor, helmets and other military equipment, has been surprised by some of the businesses that have placed recent orders.

“The weirdest thing we’ve seen is the CrossFit market,” he said. “People who do CrossFit buy stuff that looks like military equipment, and they couldn’t get their equipment from other places, so they started calling us.”

Even companies that do not manufacture entirely in New York City have benefited from having part of their supply chain here. Prince Seating, which makes chairs and tables for bars, restaurants and hotels, has factories overseas and across the United States. But its 80,000-square-foot factory in Brooklyn has saved the company during the pandemic.

“At our New York City factory, we keep a lot of inventory in stock,” said Daniel Edell, president of Prince Seating. “We have thousands of frames there, and now we are seeing that inventory get totally depleted.”

He added, “A lot of other companies don’t work that way. They have a few models here but source most things overseas, and now they are stuck because they have no product to sell.”

At the end of the process, when the final customers are local, manufacturers avoid the worry that shipped goods may not arrive in time. “I would say most of our businesses have customer bases who are based in New York City,” said Reynolds, of Made in NYC.

Manufacturing in and around New York City is not easy. It is not surprising that labor, real estate and raw materials are all more expensive here than in China. Ahmad admitted that spending more on labor and material reduces profit margins and that some items for his products can still be found only abroad, including LED boards.

But some local companies are not focused on getting the cheapest products and labor; they want the best.

“Other manufacturers make their products overseas, and that is because it’s very expensive to build things in Brooklyn,” said Laura Fodera, co-owner and CEO of Fodera, a guitar maker in Industry City. “But our customers know we are different. We use the highest-quality products, exotic woods, proprietary goods, and all of our labor is done in house in Brooklyn.”

Although customers used to comment on the high prices, in the current climate, they appreciate being able to get a Fodera guitar. “Our wait times are currently between 14 and 18 months, but that is not due to the supply chain issues,” she said. “It’s strictly because of an abundance of sales.”

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