Volume 17 • Issue 30 | Dec. 17 - 23, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Staffers at the New York Industrial Retention Network recently moved from Brooklyn to Park Place. (L-R) They include Michael Freedman-Shnapp, Adam Friedman, the network’s executive director, Jen Roth, Marie Gerges, Anne Seifreid and Kamila Angelova.

Manufacturing a move to Lower Manhattan

By Divya Watal

Adam Friedman has a simple, clear-cut mission: to save blue-collar jobs in New York City.
The realization of that mission, however, is more complex. For Friedman, it involves heading a network of over 100 organizations committed to strengthening the city’s manufacturing sector, identifying vulnerable companies and helping them relocate, improve their technologies, find employees and access financing.

The New York Industrial Retention Network, a citywide nonprofit organization, began in 1997, and since then, it has worked with over 2,000 companies employing 91,000 people. It recently made Lower Manhattan its new home, moving from Brooklyn to Park Place, near City Hall.

The network received money from the state’s Small Firm Attraction and Retention Grant Program, a post-9/11 fund to attract businesses and organizations Downtown.

“Lower Manhattan is definitely a bargain,” said Friedman, N.Y.I.R.N.’s executive director. “It has great infrastructure, and we’re close to the city government — we do a lot of work with them.”

He said manufacturing jobs provide the poor a chance to a better life.

“The best way out of poverty is to have a decent paying job. A job is the most basic thing — all other problems become easier to deal with once a person has that,” said Friedman.

In the manufacturing sector, Friedman explained, an average annual production salary is $30,000 — that’s $10,000 more than in the retail sector and other sectors that require low-skilled labor. In addition, two-thirds of the manufacturing workforce has health coverage.

“These are high quality jobs we’re talking about. That’s why it’s so important to save them,” Friedman said.

The Retention Network started as a response to the relocation of Faberware, a company famous for its home appliances and products, away from its original base in New York City. Over 200 union jobs left along with the company in 1996, creating panic and helplessness among blue-collar workers.

“Our goal is to prevent another Faberware from happening,” Friedman said, adding that the Network works closely with unions and community groups to ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are addressed.

Even though manufacturing industry in New York City has been declining since the 1970s, it continues to be an essential source of employment, particularly in the production of apparel and textiles, paper and printed materials, food, fabricated metals and chemicals.

About 12,000 manufacturing firms provide over 200,000 jobs, making the sector one of the city’s largest employers, according to an N.Y.I.R.N. report.

The sector is also a significant employer of immigrants, who comprise over a third of the City’s population. Fifty-two percent of City residents who have limited English language skills work in the manufacturing sector, and 60 percent of workers in this sector have a high school degree or less, according to New York University’s Taub Urban Research Center.

With an annual budget of $750,000 and funding from banks, corporations, trusts and the New York State government, Friedman runs economic development programs in all five boroughs. One of the Network’s newest programs is called “Green Utility,” which helps manufacturing companies conserve energy by providing them with equipment that uses renewable power.

In Chinatown, the Network has several programs, with the latest being “Fashion Space,” which locates real estate for and provides state-of-the-art technology to apparel companies.

“They just got their first funding. There are 50 to 70 companies involved, with 2,500 workers in total,” Friedman said of the Chinatown project.

The Network is also helping food vendors in the W.T.C. area cope with the changing nature of business in Lower Manhattan by advising them on new marketing strategies and procuring 9/11 relief funds for them.

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