New York’s Niche Manufacturers

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The American economy has lost nearly 5.8 million manufacturing jobs over the last two decades. Today, over 75% of U.S. manufacturers employ 20 or fewer workers. Although these small companies account for just 9% of the country’s manufacturing jobs, “they are by and large the types of businesses that have been growing and creating jobs” since the Great Recession, writes Kim Gittleson of the BBC News.
From a desk in New York, Gittleson cites two Empire State success stories. The evidence is anecdotal, but business is good at Grado Labs and RE-CO BKLYN. Both firms are part of a larger trend in which small manufacturers led by young entrepreneurs are making niche products. These startups aren’t sprouting up just anywhere, however. Hubs such as Brooklyn are reaping the benefits.
At Grado Labs, a family-owned company that manufactures phonograph cartridges, Brooklyn was home long before it became hip. Johnathan Grado grew up with the business, and the 23-year old still lives next door to the first-floor factory. The company employs far fewer workers than during its heyday, but now makes specialty headphones in addition to high-quality components for record players.
Dan Richfield and Roger Benton, both in their 30s, started New York City’s only sawmill from scratch. The web developer and furniture maker own RE-CO BKLYN, which finds felled trees in the Big Apple and turns them into tables. “Each one of our pieces are one of a kind – they look unique, and that’s part of the reason they’re sought after,” says Richfield, a former web developer.
How much do small manufacturers help their local economies? Although the BBC News story doesn’t describe the Grado Labs supply chain, RE-CO BKLYN reportedly “keeps prices low by focusing on local woods and local suppliers.” If a furniture maker can find the wood that it needs in Brooklyn, can other niche manufacturers build supply chains that include their New York neighbors?
Image Credit: © mizar_21984/Dollar Photo Club


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