For this edition of Ask the Expert, we spoke with Patrick Boyle, Executive Director of Ignite LI, the manufacturing consortium of Long Island. In this role, Boyle acts as an advocate for Long Island’s 3,000 manufacturers—fighting for their legislative goals, connecting them to other businesses and striving to attract the next generation of workers to the shop floor.
Give us an overview of manufacturing on Long Island
We have a great history in aviation but in the 90s we diversified and now there are 11 different sectors of manufacturing on Long Island—everything from aerospace and defense to pharmaceuticals and biotech to farms and distilleries. Not many people know this, but we produce 70% of the world’s guitar strings at D’Addaro, a family-owned company that employs a few thousand people in a few locations in East Farmingdale and Farmingdale. That is the story of Long Island manufacturing—family-owned businesses that have diversified and make tons of innovative products that have a global reach.
What are the hot areas now?
We have three industries that are going to be growing in the next few years.
The first is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We saw many manufacturers, especially those not listed as essential, make tremendous investments in purchasing equipment and devising processes for producing PPE so they could be listed as essential. Quite frankly it was the right thing to do. They answered the governor’s call. The demand is there, and it will remain there. New York State passed a law recently to require state agencies to bid locally for PPE. That will keep some of our businesses that had made the switch open and operating.
The second is offshore wind. Two of the largest offshore wind projects are happening off Long Island’s south shore. We have developed a great relationship with the prime contractors on those projects and they have all expressed interest in using local manufacturers to produce the needed parts. We expect the manufacturers doing those jobs to expand their shop floors and that will be a great opportunity for growth.
The third is cannabis, which is a whole new market. The law legalizing adult use was just passed in March. We now have growers that want to take on these jobs, we have distributors that want to provide those services and we have distillers who want to extract the oils out of these products. This is all emerging and really cool stuff.
Tell us about your job as the advocate for all of these businesses.
I wear many different hats. As Executive Director of Ignite LI I am sort of a one-man band. One day I am a lobbyist standing on a soapbox talking about workforce retention and attracting new employees to shop floors and the next I could be in a board room talking about how we can collaborate across different sectors of manufacturing to bring better services to our membership. I form relationships with business solutions providers that can offer products and services to my membership in an effort to cut costs or promote training or really just lighten the load on our small businesses and make it easier for them to thrive.
And I work with our partners across the state through the NYS Manufacturing Alliance regarding legislative items that we can support and talk with elected officials in Albany and DC about those programs and services from government that we need in order to support local business.
What are the main issues facing your members now?
Across the board jobs, jobs, jobs. I can go into any shop across Long Island and probably the state and ask the shop owner “what are your top 3 challenges?” and chief among them is always going to be jobs—attracting new employees and retaining those employees.
The cost of doing business is always a challenge. And government regulation. We understand it is very important, but we have to do it in a smart way that enables companies to grow, enables companies to operate, because if they are operating an overly regulated environment that is not going to promote the health and growth of the business.
These are the things I get to advocate for and talk with government officials about, because they are not on the shop floor. They don’t see what I see on a day-to-day basis. That is why this organization and others like it across the state exist.
Please say more about jobs and the importance of attracting young workers
That is a big part of what I’m doing. All those areas of growth I mentioned can’t happen without a workforce. We have the “silver tsunami” of employees who have hit retirement age and are walking off the shop floor. They are taking with them all that institutional knowledge. We are finding it is very difficult to bring up that next generation of young workers to fill those shoes. Companies are asking themselves if they should invest in expansion if they can’t find people to take the jobs. That is a question I don’t want Long Island manufacturers to be asking themselves because that’s dangerous. If we’re not growing, we’re not succeeding. We have to constantly be growing and in order to do that we have to work on attracting new workforce.
I’m finding that a lot of young people don’t know that manufacturing exists here on Long Island or they don’t know that manufacturing is a viable career or that walking out of high school they may have the skills to get an entry level position and be making almost 20% more here than they would walking onto a shop floor almost anywhere else in the country.
So, I work with our high schools and colleges to promote and market careers in manufacturing and to talk about the STEM education we all need to be focusing on, so the next generation of Long Islanders are equipped to take these positions. These are really great careers in clean technologies and clean processes. If you walk onto any manufacturing floor on Long Island, there will probably be a clean room. This is not Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory. We are producing pacemakers, semiconductors, airplane wings and lasers—really very technical, very cool things that a lot of people don’t know about that we have to talk about. We have to talk about these jobs because they are critical. We have to talk about these careers because they are really good careers. And without a new workforce these jobs can’t stay here.
How do you work with FuzeHub and your local MEP?
IgniteLI is a relatively young organization, and we are growing in the ways we fit into the larger business assistance community. One way we have found great success is in our ability to market and promote the governmental resources offered by MTRC and FuzeHub. Through collaborations like this, we are working as a team with our regional partners to provide critical tools for the manufacturing businesses of Long Island and streamline services to the end-users.