By Carrie Mason-Draffen, Daysi Calavia-Robertson, David Reich-Hale and Ken Schachter
Cookies, surfboards and sophisticated intruder detection devices are products that don’t seem to have much in common.
Think again: They are all manufactured on Long Island.
Manufacturing employment has fallen since the Cold War, when Grumman Corp. and Fairchild-Republic Co. employed tens of thousands of workers to build aircraft here. Manufacturing jobs in Nassau and Suffolk dropped to 70,300 in January from 85,600 in January 2006, state data show.
But manufacturing output can remain strong even as the number of jobs declines, because of growing efficiency and automation. “The manufacturing industry has been sort of the star of productivity,” said James Brown, labor market analyst with the New York State Department of Labor.
New York State’s manufacturing industry produced $65.6 billion in goods in 2015, 5 percent more (adjusted for inflation) than it produced in 1997, the earliest comparable year on record, according to federal Department of Commerce data.
Data for Long Island aren’t available. But the pattern holds widely, Brown said: “Manufacturing is becoming increasingly productive. We need fewer workers.”
Long Island’s products today range from consumer goods such as cookies, marker pens, surfboards and swimsuits, to items businesses purchase such as crowd-control barriers, to items sold to government agencies, such as intruder-detection radars.
Manufacturers say that the Island has high costs but provides them with access to markets and quality workers. And the companies can turn around new products for U.S. clients faster than competitors overseas, they say.
Here are some products that are made on Long Island:
Hauppauge-based Visiontron Corp. creates posts, belts, ropes and signs used to direct crowds at such places as airports, banks and movie theaters. The company said its crowd-control products have been used at concerts for performers including Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and Billy Joel.
Visiontron was founded in 1964, when the New York World’s Fair opened, said Charles Hansen, the company’s director of manufacturing. That event made the need for crowd control “highly visible,” he said. Local demographics then also helped, he said: “Long Island has always had a dense kind of population. There were lots of movie theater chains at the time.”
The company manufactures in a 45,000-square-foot warehouse and employs about 50 people. About 10 percent of its revenue comes from exports to Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Hansen said. He declined to provide the privately owned company’s annual revenue.
Long Island provides access to trucking hubs, local shops that contribute such services as metal finishing and a “good labor market,” Hansen said. Local disadvantages include higher taxes and labor costs. But the labor here has “a high degree of productivity.”
The business, Hansen said, is to some extent recession-resistant: “Even in unemployment, people stand in line.” — Carrie Mason-Draffen
A taste for growth
One million cookies: That’s what Southampton-based Tate’s Bake Shop creates on Long Island each weekday for sale at retailers here and around the country. A 7-ounce bag sells for $5.
Tate’s founder Kathleen King first sold her cookies at her father’s North Sea farm in the early 1970s. In August 2014, when Tate’s made half a million cookies a day, King sold a majority stake to the investment firm Riverside Co., which planned a major expansion of staff and products.
After the deal, the company considered moving production away from its East Moriches facility, where most of the cookies — including chocolate chip, vanilla, oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia nut and double chocolate, among others — are made.
“There were two strikes against this region,” said Maura Mottolese, the company’s chief executive since December 2014. “First, the size of the labor force is limited, because we are on an island. Also, transportation is more expensive, because it’s a longer distance” shipping nationwide from Eastern Long Island.
In the end, the company stayed because of its history here.
“Long Island is part of the essence of our brand,” Mottolese said. “That was more important than the efficiency.”
Since the deal, employment has risen from about 200 to 350, she said. And the company plans to boost cookie production even further, when it releases Tiny Tate’s, smaller cookies in a single-serve bag. The product “is just rolling out,” King said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.” — David Reich-Hale
1 million markers a week
Dri Mark Products Inc. makes marking pens for writing on balloons, fabrics, white boards, wine glasses and even skin (it creates markers used for temporary tattoos and surgical markings), and highlighters. The markers are manufactured in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Bethpage, and the company sells 1 million of them a week, said Cathy Williams Owen, president and chief financial officer.
Its biggest seller is a pen that retail workers run across currency to detect counterfeit bills; a pack of three sells for about $8.99 to $9.99.
The company began in 1958 in Yonkers importing marking pens from Japan. In 1973 it bought the Japanese manufacturer that supplied the pens and relocated operations to Farmingdale, where it began production of permanent markers. Dri Mark moved to Bethpage in 2013, where it employs 42 people.
The company’s customers — big-box discounters, drugstore chains, office superstores, college bookstores,educational-product dealers and government offices -— like that Dri Mark has domestic operations, Owen said.
“You don’t have to wait six months for something to come from overseas,” she said. “We can work with them to develop products together.” — Carrie Mason-Draffen
The growing focus on immigration and border control plays to the strength of Farmingdale-based defense contractor Telephonics Corp., which manufactures radar systems that can detect intruders at borders, airports, seaports and military encampments.
The company’s ground-surveillance radar systems are in use by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency along the border with Mexico.
The RaVEN-M (radar and Video Enforcement Network-Mobile), manufactured in Huntington, is a truck-mounted system that can be networked to create what Telephonics calls a “virtual fence.” In January 2016, Customs and Border Protection placed a $13.5 million order for the systems, which have been made on Long Island for a decade.
Telephonics’ smaller Advanced Radar Surveillance System, also made in Huntington, can be carried by one person and mounted on a tripod, vehicle or tower. It has been made on Long Island for 17 years.
Telephonics, a unit of Manhattan-based Griffon Corp., declined to comment on the price of the systems and the number made. — Ken Schachter
From Bellmore to the beach
Diane Belgrod of Massapequa Park founded K Belo swimwear when the 1950s-vintage bathing suits she enjoyed wearing to Tobay Beach finally wore out.
“They were falling apart, but I just couldn’t let them go because I loved them so much,” said Belgrod. “Every summer I’d go to a family friend, who was a seamstress, and have her put the elastic back in, and it got to the point when she said, ‘That’s it! I can’t fix these anymore.’ ”
And so the K Belo brand was born nine years ago. The name is from the Italian phrase “che bello” — “how beautiful.” Belgrod is the owner and lead designer.
She didn’t study fashion design but learned the trade by talking to people in New York’s Garment District and by “putting the pieces together” on her own, she said.
Now she sells about 400 bathing suits a year, including tops, bottoms, one-piece and cover-ups, all made on Long Island by a company in Bellmore to which she contracts the work. The suits retail from $80 to $230 and are sold at small boutiques and on her website, kbeloswim.com.
“I went to the beach one day,” she said, “and saw someone wearing my bathing suit, and I just went up to her and told her ‘Hey, I love your bathing suit!’ And it was such a cool moment. I want more moments like that one.” — Daysi Calavia-Robertson
Surfers in California and Hawaii are riding waves on surfboards shaped by hand at Nature’s Shapes’ 1,800-square-foot workshop in Oakdale..
Owner Mike Becker got his start 25 years ago in high school. Now, at 39, with the help of a small staff, he makes more than 500 surfboards a year, both custom and stock. They sell for $500 to $2,000 at the company’s 900-square-foot shop in Sayville. Chain retailer Ron Jon Surf Shop sells boards for $200 to $6,000.
The process, which takes two to three weeks for a single board, is carried out assembly-line-style.
His customers don’t have to wait weeks to get a board from Thailand, Becker said.
“One of the perks of being a ‘made on LI’ company and being small and nimble is that we can test the market,” Becker said. “If there’s a trend, we have the ability to jump on it really quickly like we did with the paddle board craze in 2011 and 2012.”
Becker and his team use a computer-controlled machine to cut the surfboards from expanded polystyrene or polyurethane foam. Each board is then shaped by hand, including tasks such as applying Fiberglas cloth, coats of polyester resin and adding color or artwork, sanding and polishing.
Another Long Island surfboard maker, Bunger Surfboards, runs a 2,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in West Babylon and a surf shop in Babylon Village. The company makes about 100 boards a year along with boogie boards, wet suits, skateboards and other items. — Daysi Calavia-Robertson