Area companies starting to feel pinch

Gwen Chamberlain

The slowing economy is beginning to hit Yates County, and some of the first to feel it will be about half of the 187 employees at Ferro Corporation, and the 40 employees at Penn Yan Aero.

On Monday, Dec. 1, Ferro Plant Manager Bob Gage confirmed reports that the plant will undergo a temporary shut down from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3.

“Like every other company, we’re affected by the slowdown,” he said in a telephone conversation Monday afternoon. He said many of the companies — both suppliers and customers — the Yates County plant deals with are going through similar situations.

Gage says about half of the plant’s employees will be impacted by the shut down.

Likewise, William Middlebrook, owner of Penn Yan Aero explains his company is using a New York State Department of Labor program to keep employees on the job during a slow period.

Middlebrook explains through the Shared Work Program, the company’s employees work only when there is business. The program helps the employees maintain their benefits such as health insurance and vacation time, and the company retains skilled workers with several years of experience in a specialized field.

This is the second time the company has used the program. The first time was after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001. When the aviation industry went through a very slow period, the program helped the Penn Yan Company for about a month.

Middlebrook says as negative as that experience was, the current economic situation is worse — that the company has felt the pinch of the downturn for more than a year.

Because aviation fuel costs between $1 and $2 more per gallon than typical gasoline, the higher fuel prices this year had a big impact on the aviation industry.

The following general economic decline continued to slow business in a “snowball” effect, Middlebrook says.

Middlebrook says the Shared Work Program may seem more expensive for an employer, but in reality it is a better option for keeping skilled workers who have been long term employees.

Despite the challenges of the situation, Middlebrook says he’s optimistic about the future for the company that has a strong reputation around the globe for its work on aviation engines.

He says the company was started in 1945 and he’s beginning to think about marking the 65th anniversary of Penn Yan Aero. “We’ll probably be here for another 65 years. This gives us a chance to reinvent ourselves,” he says.

Both Gage and Middlebrook say they are cautiously optimistic about the future.

“I don’t anticipate having to look at any other options,” says Middlebrook, explaining laying off employees can be expensive in a specialized business environment.

“Most of the people who work here have been here 10 years or more. Their expertise and knowledge is irreplaceable,” he says.

Earlier this year, Ferro Corp. received a NYSEG Economic Development grant used toward the completion of an 80,000 sq. ft. building.

Founded in 1919, Ferro Corp. is a global supplier of technology-based performance  products in a variety of end markets, including electronics, solar energy, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, building and renovation, appliances, automotive, household furnishings and industrial products.

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Ferro had sales of $2 billion in 2006 and has approximately 6,700 employees world-wide. There are several locations in Asia, Europe and North and South America.

Penn Yan Aero is an independent engine facility that overhauls, improves and builds Lycoming and Continental aircraft engines. According to the company’s web page, Penn Yan Aero continuously meets or exceeds FAA standards.