Urban Manufacturing Q&A: Miquela Craytor, New York City Economic Development Corporation

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In the fall of 2013, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)’s Industrial Desk team, led by VP for Industrial Initiatives and Income Mobility Miquela Craytor, released the State of Local Manufacturing report under the banner of NYCEDC’s NYCrafted program. The report provides a detailed but accessible snapshot of what the sector looks like today: from the average makeup of manufacturing businesses that are choosing to make things in the city today, to which areas of the sector that are growing, to how New York stacks up against other major cities across the country. The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between Craytor and OHNY, and is part of an ongoing series of Q&As with experts on urban manufacturing that augments OHNY and NYCEDC’s’s Making it Here series.

Looking at the State of Local Manufacturing, it seems like, after a long period of decline, the city’s manufacturing sector is actually starting to stabilize; some sectors are even starting to grow again. What areas of this sector, specifically, are growing right now, and what does the success of those subsectors tell us about how manufacturing in the city is changing?

Food and beverage manufacturing is the bright shining star right now, and there are a couple of potential reasons for that growth. Part of it is the rising interest in food security, part is the interest in eating food that is locally grown or produced. You see this in the growth of farmers markets, and markets in general. Markets have definitely contributed to that sub-sector of manufacturers finding a really strong foothold here in New York City. A place this dynamic and large has a very opinionated customer base, so there’s naturally a larger set of people demanding that kind of smaller niche product.

Another interesting piece of data that we came across is that, across the manufacturing sector, there are fewer employees, but there are more firms. [This is enabled by larger trends in] technology and design: with the growing accessibility of design tools, open source resources, and online marketplaces like Etsy, businesses are able to rapidly get their products to market without some of the barriers that have traditionally made it more difficult for newer companies to break into the marketplace. The city also has a really great talent pool of designers and design appreciators. That doesn’t necessarily apply to one cluster or sub-sector, but you see a lot of new niche manufacturers emerging now as a result of that base.

There are also a lot of older firms that have adopted new forms of technology in order to survive. That is often overlooked or understated, and has happened more frequently than the average New Yorker, to the extent that they think about this stuff, might have necessarily realized. You might think that if a company has been around for fifty years they’re probably antiquated or old-school. Sometimes that’s the case, but more often than not, legacy manufacturers have had to adopt some sort of new technologies, whether it’s managing their inventories and implementing more just-in-time manufacturing processes, or becoming more efficient in the materials they’re using. This is not necessarily a new trend, but it’s a piece of the puzzle that we became familiar with as we worked on this report.

"Food and beverage manufacturing is the bright shining star right now." / Photo: Daniella Shin

“Food and beverage manufacturing is the bright shining star right now.” (Photo: Daniella Shin)

How is all of this impacting the physical spaces that manufacturers occupy, both in terms of the buildings that they’re in and the neighborhoods where manufacturing is taking place?

Manufacturing companies, as they become more efficient and adopt new technologies, are able to reduce their environmental impact. In a very densely populated place like New York City, that makes it possible for these businesses to coexist with other uses in a way that doesn’t create as many conflicts as it may have eighty plus years ago. So the increases in efficiency in manufacturing are not just about the overall operational efficiency of a given company, they can reduce that company’s environmental impact, so that it can be seen as a better neighbor, and a source of less conflict [within a mixed-use area].

One continued challenge is less about what happens inside your facility and more about how you get your products out to market. Manufacturers are more willing to go to upper stories than they once were, but for any industrial business that’s trying to move goods around this city, our streets are already packed; trucks have a difficult time navigating here, and they’re not necessarily ideal when you consider things like the city’s attempts to encourage biking and the greening of space. We’re not going to be able to build a bunch of new streets, so that’s an ongoing challenge that the city needs to think more thoughtfully about.

As manufacturers become more attracted to different types of vertical mixed-use spaces, and digital platforms—you mentioned Etsy—make it easier for more small, niche firms to enter the market, is it fair to say that urban manufacturing is actually getting more diffuse?

In terms of the trend where we’re seeing more of these innovative start-up companies, New York City is a very attractive place for them largely because of the talent pool that is here, but also the supply of buildings that have that sort of creative essence that these types of groups want to be in. A lot of these firms are really turned off by the idea of working in a high rise, even if it was a class B commercial space. In terms of thinking about building typologies that are appropriate for companies in this new wave of manufacturers, being in a multi story building is not a bad thing. There’s a sense of community in many of these [retrofitted industrial buildings] that new companies want to be a part of, and that sets them apart from more traditional manufacturers.

That works for a while at a certain stage of your growth as a company, but it will be interesting, looking toward the future, to see how and whether can we make sure that, if these companies hit growth spurts, we can still have spaces that they can move into. That’s something that we’re looking at here at NYCEDC, on the policy side, so that the city can continue to support these companies through their whole life trajectory, not just during their start-up phase.

"There’s a sense of community in many of these [retrofitted industrial buildings] that new companies want to be a part of, and that sets them apart from more traditional manufacturers." / Photo: OHNY

“There’s a sense of community in many of these [retrofitted industrial buildings] that new companies want to be a part of, and that sets them apart from more traditional manufacturers.” (Photo: OHNY)

That brings us to an interesting subject that a lot of New Yorkers probably know very little about: the Industrial Business Zone. What, exactly, is an IBZ?

Industrial Business Zones were a policy program that was started back in late 2005 and went into effect in 2006. Initially the city created a total of 16 IBZs; in the past year we’ve added five more. These 21 areas are located in all of the boroughs except Manhattan. IBZs can only exist within an area that’s zoned for manufacturing, aka an M-zone; they do not change the existing land use. The process to define the boundary lines of these areas is somewhat rigorous, and is governed by the city’s administrative law code. [IBZs aren’t actually formal zoning rules, but] if the city wants to create new IBZs or expand or contract existing IBZs, they have to follow a set of very specific steps in order to consider those changes or modifications.

The IBZ program was primarily created as an outcome of many businesses being concerned that the areas where they were located were going to be rezoned to other uses, like residential, and that they would be pushed out of the city. The program is a way of telling industrial business communities that they are still valued, and that we still want them around.

How do you explain to people why, at a time when it can be so much more profitable to build a condo tower or a hotel, it’s important for the city to make space for manufacturing?

Manufacturing companies tend to pay, on average, a much higher wage compared to other industries where you don’t need a four-year degree. Looking at that wage trajectory, and ensuring that the types of companies that offer good wages for someone without a degree, from a policy perspective, is something that this administration really believes in. The overall benefit to the city of having these jobs here is that these are living wage jobs; there is so much talk about the hollowing out of the middle class, and these are the jobs that can create some level of stability for the New Yorkers who are still pursuing that so-called American Dream.

We think that the city is at a very exciting inflection point. With the new administration, we’re at that point at which we can really send strong indicators to this part of the city’s economy and ensure that these companies feel welcomed and encouraged to stay, and also that they have access to additional tools and resources to grow to the extent they want to, and to become sustainable in the full sense of the word—not only for their bottom line, but for the communities which they’re a part of. There are a lot of things that go into that, and what’s exciting about the Making it Here series of tours, and the conversations that are coming out of them, is that it is helping to re-paint [the picture that New Yorkers have of] what the city’s industrial landscape looks like, how it’s evolved, and where it’s potentially headed.

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“With the new administration, we’re at that point at which we can really send strong indicators to this part of the city’s economy and ensure that these companies feel welcomed and encouraged to stay.” (Photo: OHNY)

Tour Recap: Brooklyn Navy Yard

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Tucked into the crook of Wallabout Bay, across from where the East River curves around Corlear’s Hook, sits the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Once the site of the first regular ferry service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the area has long played an important role within the commercial life of the city. The US Navy established the Yard in 1806, and it remained active until it was decommissioned in 1966. In 1981, the city, which by then owned the Yard, created the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC), which has since turned the 300-acre site into a model urban industrial park for the 21st Century. On Friday, June 6th, the Navy Yard hosted a tour as part of Open House New York and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)’s Making it Here series to give New Yorkers a chance to learn about this extraordinary site, and how different types of manufacturers and other industrial businesses are thriving within the complex.

The tour, part of the Making it Here series organized in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), began in BLDG 92, the only publically accessible building at the Yard and home to exhibition galleries, classroom spaces, a café, small gift shop and the Navy Yard’s Employment Center The original Building 92, also known as the Marine Commandant’s House, was built in 1857; it was renovated and expanded in 2011 with a modular addition designed by Beyer Blinder Belle and workshop/apd. The addition was built by Capsys Corp., one of two modular construction companies located within the Yard, and was assembled on its current site in just under a week.

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BNYDC’s Aileen Chumard and Matt Hopkins started the tour with a visit to the Making it in NYC exhibition in BLDG92. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

Two BNYDC staff members, Executive Director of Programs & Exhibits. Aileen Chumard, and VP of Development & Leasing Matt Hopkins started things off with a tour of BLDG 92’s just-opened exhibition Making it in NYC, an overview of the impact that the Maker Movement has had within the city. The show features objects made by dozens of entrepreneurial manufacturing businesses around the five boroughs, including many located within the Navy Yard itself, and helped to set the stage for what participants would see over the course of the tour.

The first stop after BLDG 92 was New Lab, a collaborative incubator space housing twelve innovative new firms just a short walk from the Navy Yard gates off of Flushing Avenue. New Lab is a sort of prototype itself for what will be an 84,000-square-foot high tech design and prototyping facility that will occupy half of the Green Manufacturing Center. The GMC, which is being created by the BNYDC via the renovation of a colossal old ship repair shed, is visible from the New Lab’s current home on one of the upper floors of Building 128; stripped to its steel skeleton at the time of the tour, the cavernous structure will soon house the New Lab along with an 80,000-square-foot facility for Crye Precision, a manufacturer of state of the art gear for the US military.

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The skeleton of the massive Green Manufacturing Center can be seen from all over the Navy Yard (Photo: OHNY)

NewLab and Crye may seem like strange bedfellows at first glance, but the pairing tells an interesting story when you consider the fact that Crye started off in less than a thousand square feet of space elsewhere in the Yard—a success story that the BNYDC hopes will be repeated even more frequently in the future. NewLab will function somewhat like a co-working space for industrial start-ups, offering shared working and event space, prototyping and design equipment, including 3D printers, CNC machines, and other tools and services that many small businesses just starting out would not be able to afford on their own. “We’re hoping that NewLab will act as a hub where people get their start,” Matt explained. “From there, they can then branch out into our [BNYDC’s] other available spaces.”

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New Lab is an incubator for new companies that need access to prototyping and design tools; its “beta” space is home to a dozen businesses. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

The New Lab space has a frenetic, creative energy; elaborate models created by avant garde architecture firm Terreform ONE jockey for attention with trays of brightly colored prototypes of a popular ergonomic feeding spoon for infants, a sleek modular shelving system, and pieces of kinetic furniture made of wood and magnets that have to be seen to be believed. One of the most remarkable things about the space, though, has nothing to do with technology: ask the tenants why they love being there, and there’s a good chance that they’ll tell you about some of the cool products and projects that the people they share the space are working on. Tenants aren’t just building their businesses here; they’re building networks, partnerships, and sharing ideas.

This mirrors what BNYDC has seen happening in other buildings and amongst manufacturers around the campus. During a bus tour of the Yard following the stop at BetaLab, Matt noted that the co-location of similar or like-minded firms has often happened organically. Smaller firms will commonly use the same suppliers, or share equipment; especially in the early stages of building a new manufacturing business, collaboration makes smart business sense.

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While exploring New Lab, OHNY tour participants heard from tenants about the unique mix of companies, and how they support each other. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

BNYDC actively engages in the social networks that exist within the Yard, and endeavors to build strong relationships with its tenants so that it can be more responsive to tenants’ needs; as a mission-driven non-profit BNYDC is able to look at more than just the bottom line, an important factor when considering the Yard’s success in recent years. In addition, the organization offers a range of public programming at BLDG92, including training courses that help local residents develop the skills required for obtaining stable, good-paying industrial sector jobs at businesses within the Yard. BNYDC also tries to source its own purchases from its tenants. In addition to having BLDG92 built by Capsys, BNYDC also purchased the solar/wind lamps that light its streets from Lumi•Solair, a sister company of the Duggal printing empire, which has several facilities on-site.

In addition to the many businesses already noted, the bus tour of the Yard gave tour participants a sense of the incredible breadth of industrial businesses that are located here on Wallabout Bay. Some of the other notable tenants seen from the bus included Stiegelbauer Associates, which builds all of the sets for Saturday Night Live, and Steiner Studios, one of the largest film production studios in the country outside of Southern California (and the largest single tenant at the Yard). Matt also explained that BNYDC has focused on attracting tenants that provide good-paying jobs, rather than industrial uses like self-storage, a common site in other industrial areas around the city, which offer little in the way of employment.

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BNYDC’s Matt Hopkins led the bus tour portion of the Navy Yard campus, which sprawls over 300 acres. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

The final stop on the tour was Situ Fabrication, the production facility for Situ Studio, an architectural firm that designs and fabricates exhibits, installations, and other custom projects. The Situ team was busy working to finish pieces of the Museum of Art + Design’s upcoming NYC Makers, another exhibition focusing on the impact of the Maker Movement, and had recently finished work on the Making it in NYC show over at BLDG92, as well as the new Design Lab at the New York Hall of Science.

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Situ Studio has a design and prototyping center in DUMBO, and fabricates its work in a 10,000-square-foot facility in the Navy Yard. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

After the tour of Situ’s shop, partner Wes Rozen spoke to the group about why Situ chose to locate its manufacturing operations within the city, echoing the priorities of other manufacturers who have hosted Making it Here guests during previous tours. Quality of life for employees was a significant factor, as was the fact that the company caters to a highly specialized local market that could only exist in a city like New York, with its dense cluster of cultural and arts organizations. “A lot of our clients are architects, and most of them are located in Manhattan,” Wes explained. “There’s a great energy in New York, and our work feeds off of that.”

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Situ’s Wes Rozen explains how complex forms are fabricated on a machine that uses vacuum suction to press materials into intricate molds. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)

Today, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is home to 4.5 million square feet of space “under roof,” and the businesses located here employ more than 7,000 people. Within the next few years, Matt told the group, BNYDC will add two million additional square feet of space, and aims to double the number of jobs on-site. As the Yard grows, it is also thinking proactively about how to make the site more livable (or rather, workable) for its diverse community of tenants.

“In the past, new ground-up industrial development didn’t really happen in the Yard,” Matt said. “We’re entering the world of co-working spaces, of less noxious industry … Way back when, you were happy to just have your industrial space, and maybe a bathroom. Today, you need high speed internet, you need parking, you need all sorts of other amenities.”

Back at BLDG92, a food truck could be seen down near the waterfront, where several workers waited in line for lunch—part of a new effort by BNYDC to add more food options on-site. Even surrounded by huge old industrial buildings and dormant smokestacks, that little truck was hard to miss. It was bright and colorful, and softened the scene at an extremely urban site. More importantly, it was an unmistakable sign of how much the city’s industrial landscape has changed, as well as a harbinger of changes yet to come.

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Tour participants file out of the bus after their trip around the Yard. (Photo: Nicolas Lemery Nantel)


OHNY and NYCEDC thank BNYDC, BetaLab, and Situ Studio for welcoming participants into their spaces for this tour.

Urban Manufacturing Q&A: Jen Becker, Pratt Center for Community Development

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Last February, the Pratt Center for Community Development—one of the leading research organizations focusing on manufacturing in New York City—published a detailed report analyzing the success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, located along the East River waterfront just a stone’s throw from the Pratt Institute campus, where the Pratt Center is based. The report also identifies and analyzes potential sites in other cities around the US where a similar type of campus could be developed. The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between OHNY and Jen Becker, a Senior Fellow for Economic Development at the Pratt Center and the lead author of the Navy Yard report, looking at the trends impacting urban manufacturing in the US today and, specifically, how those trends are changing the shape of manufacturing in New York City.

Let’s start off by taking stock of how the public understands manufacturing: what is the biggest gap you’ve observed between the public perception of urban manufacturing and the reality on the ground, today?

There’s a myth that manufacturing doesn’t exist in a lot of cities—certainly in New York City—because people just don’t see it anymore. Obviously, manufacturing has declined; we have a lot of old sites that aren’t used for manufacturing anymore, and a lot of old industrial buildings that have been converted to residential. And as our economy has changed to more of a service economy, people are not as personally connected to the manufacturing sector as they once were, so it’s become a lot less visible.

In actuality, there’s still a tremendous amount of manufacturing going on in New York. It’s really diverse, it’s very vibrant, and it’s tied to a lot of the more high profile industries that NYC has become known for, like finance and design. Manufacturing is part of [the city’s overall economic] system, but it’s not as visible, so people just aren’t aware that it’s happening and that things are still being made here.

 

There’s also the perception that manufacturing is part of the ‘old economy,’ and the ‘new economy’ is all about creativity, innovation—brain work, as opposed to manual work. But that’s changed a lot, hasn’t it? A lot of the manufacturing that’s happening in NYC today is pretty creative.

In the past few years there’s been a resurgence in the way we value the making of things. I don’t think the public perception has shifted completely, but I think there is more of an acknowledgement of this field than there was a few years ago. I think people still think it’s more of a hobbyist thing, like “Oh, I can take a class,” and the focus is on the Maker Movement, but people aren’t yet aware of the breadth of companies that are here that are creating jobs and employing people.

 

A number of the manufacturers visited so far through Making it Here tours have cited quality of life as a big issue for why they choose to operate here: when people ask, “Why on earth do you want to manufacture things in New York?”, manufacturers respond they want to live in New York and to be here for many of the reasons that anyone else does.

The manufacturers that are here today, in large part, are of a different type than what was here fifty years ago. The vast majority of these companies are not competing just on price or volume. The companies that want to be here, and that are thriving here, are the ones that are more custom oriented. There’s a real benefit to them being close to their market, and being close to designers, to other innovators, and being part of that network.

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In the Navy Yard report, you mention the dynamic clusters that have formed within that campus; can you talk about co-location and some of the benefits of having manufacturing in urban neighborhoods?

The value of clustering is not new. New York City is actually built on that: think of the Garment District, the Flower District. In many cases today that’s dissipated, and a lot of those districts have now become more diverse, in terms of the industries that are there. But companies still find a strong value in being near other similar companies. It doesn’t have to be in terms of ‘we’re making the same product,’ but that there’s a sort of shared, creative energy. Especially for companies that are smaller, or just starting up, I think there are a lot of benefits to being in close proximity to others. They can share resources such as equipment, or work together on particular projects, and that kind of collaboration is really useful, especially for the smaller companies.

 

It used to be that the city had these huge companies doing a lot of manufacturing on one site. As the companies doing manufacturing have gotten smaller, how has that changed the demands for industrial space?

Older industrial real estate often consists of multi-story buildings that people think can’t accommodate manufacturing anymore, and that since we don’t have the space for giant, single-story industrial buildings [like those found in suburban industrial parks], manufacturing can’t fit into contemporary New York City. And that’s true, we don’t have that kind of space, and those companies aren’t going to stay in the city.

But there’s still a way to re-use older, multi-story buildings to meet the needs of these smaller industrial firms that are looking for around 5,000 square feet, by breaking up those spaces. That’s what the Navy Yard has done, and we’re seeing this all across the city. What we’re looking at is that there are going to be a lot more of these smaller manufacturing companies in the future, rather than a few bigger companies. We still need to make sure that we have room for these companies to grow. We need flexible real estate.

 

Why should the average New Yorker care about manufacturing in their city? How does it affect the future of their neighborhoods?

Manufacturing has been, and still remains, one of the best job opportunities for people with limited educational attainment, or limited English-speaking skills; manufacturing pays more on average than jobs at similar skill levels, like retail or hospitality. Entry-level jobs in manufacturing tend to pay better and provide better access to career ladders, so it’s a really important sector to maintain just in terms of economic diversity. From an environmental perspective, we don’t want to just be a city of consumers that’s importing all of our goods. There’s an environmental impact to transporting all of the goods that we consume into the city. It would be unrealistic to say that everything we need is going to be made in New York City, but having some of those goods made here cuts down on transportation and carbon emissions.

Lastly, and this ties into both of those things, is the economic vitality of the city as a whole. Manufacturing has a really significant economic impact, and manufacturing jobs have a really high multiplier effect. The economic impact of a manufacturing job is quite high, and bolsters the economy in a positive way. Having a diverse economy is just really important to the overall health of our city.

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How will manufacturing fit into New York City in the coming years? Will we see more manufacturing integrated back into our neighborhoods? Or is the campus model of something like the Navy Yard more desirable?

There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; we need to have a mix of tools at our disposal. There is a real need to have areas like the Navy Yard that are universally acknowledged as places for job creation, not for residential development. Underlying all of this is the real estate pressure facing manufacturing; that’s the number one challenge for maintaining manufacturing in New York. Residential and commercial uses are always going to be able to pay more than manufacturers for real estate, so it’s important for there to be areas in the city where manufacturers know that they can invest in their companies and facilities, to buy new equipment, and to know they aren’t going to get priced out.

Also important are mixed use areas; there are some manufacturing companies that really want to be in those kinds of areas, which have a different kind of vibrancy. It’s really critical that we develop tools to be able to maintain that mix, though. Saying that anybody can be in a given area without some kind of mechanism to balance that mix out over time will lead to the loss of that manufacturing space.

And one concluding thing, for people who haven’t been in a factory before, is that it’s one of the coolest things you can see: watching people make things, either by hand or even by machine. [Manufacturing is something we often] take for granted, and one of the things that I love about my job is being able to go into factories and see how things are made, and to acknowledge that work, and reinforce its value in our community.

Tour Recap: Brooklyn Army Terminal

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While many of New York City’s waterfront neighborhoods have undergone dramatic change over the past decade, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, still looks and feels like a solid, working class industrial neighborhood. The streets are lined with simple but attractive rowhouses, alternately framing views of ships passing by on the harbor, or the towering facades of industrial complexes like Industry City and the gargantuan Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT).

At BAT, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has spent the past three decades on a multi-phased renovation, re-activating more than three million square feet of once mothballed industrial space. Today, the usable space is 100% leased, to a mix of commercial and industrial tenants. On May 20th, Open House New York organized a tour of BAT as part of the Making it Here series on contemporary manufacturing spaces in New York City. The tour served as an opportunity to learn about how NYCEDC, OHNY’s lead partner on MIH, has leveraged this unique public asset to provide dedicated space for industrial and manufacturing businesses at a prime location.

BAT, designed by Cass Gilbert (of Woolworth Building fame) and opened in 1919, was originally built by the US Army to house soldiers and distribute supplies around the world. It was the largest military supply base through WWII, but had been decommissioned by 1975. Since 1984, when the city purchased BAT from the Army, NYCEDC has invested more than $165 million to transform the two main buildings of the 95-acre complex into a major employment center with a diverse tenant base of more than one hundred businesses, including dozens of manufacturers.

NYCEDC Vice President of Industrial Initiatives and Income Mobility Miquela Craytor (center-right) welcomed the group. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

NYCEDC Vice President of Industrial Initiatives and Income Mobility Miquela Craytor (center-right) welcomed the group. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

In fact, on the very morning of the Making it Here tour, BAT played host to a press conference where NYCEDC President Kyle Kimball and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a commitment by the city of $100 million to renovate the last 500,000 square feet of unused space in the complex, which could add thousands of additional jobs to the 3,600 that are already on-site.

Later that afternoon, OHNY tour participants gathered in the lobby of Building B, a large space that was recently renovated to add a café and seating areas where workers from the many companies located within BAT can meet and mingle. The lobby is flooded with natural light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that look out into the iconic atrium through which trains moved more than 37 million tons of military supplies during the half-century that the Army occupied the complex.

Out in that soaring atrium space, Miquela Craytor, Vice President of Industrial Initiatives and Income Mobility teams at NYCEDC, used the State of Local Manufacturing report (October 2013) as a jumping-off point to explain how the city has responded to the local effects of the decline that has taken place in domestic manufacturing over the past few decades, as globalization has kicked into high gear.

An old railroad car was brought into the atrium during one of the renovation phases, and serves as a reminder of the soaring space's past use. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

An old railroad car was brought into the atrium during one of the renovation phases, and serves as a reminder of the soaring space’s past use. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

NYCEDC is able to provide space for mid-sized manufacturers (which typically require blocks of 15-40,000 square feet) thanks to its status as a public-private entity, which allows it to use the unique metric of jobs per square foot of usable space, rather than profit per square foot, to measure success. Just three years ago, BAT employed one person for every 1,200 square feet of usable space within its walls; today, that number has risen to one job for every 500 square feet of space. Continuing that process, Craytor attested, requires the transitioning of more warehouse space to light industrial use.

Once the stage had been set, tour participants split into two small groups and took turns visiting two manufacturers within Building B: Riva Precision and Jacques Torres Chocolates.

A worker at Jacques Torres Chocolates, somehow managing not to eat everything coming off of what may be the world's most delicious conveyer belt. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

A factory worker at Jacques Torres Chocolates, somehow managing to resist eating everything coming off of what may be the world’s most delicious conveyer belt. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Up in Jacques Torres’ lofty chocolate factory, one could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a Modernist interpretation of a Roald Dahl story. The space is full of clean white walls and shiny metal surfaces, and entrance is gained to the factory floor via a shoe-washing machine, a bristly contraption that provides a sensation suggestive of a walk over quicksand. Jacques himself led the OHNY groups around the facility, and even managed to work in a crack about the number of Oompa Loompas he has on staff. (It’s 10, in case you’re wondering.)

Jacques Torres, himself, (left) lead the tour of his facility. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Jacques Torres, himself, (left) lead the tour of his facility, providing generously frequent samples along the way. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Jacques’ facility at BAT, which just opened this past year, produces a variety of sweet treats that are then distributed to half a dozen stores around the city. The new factory has everything from giant machines for roasting thousands of almonds, to a cookie room that puts out 80 cookies every minute. There are also supportive spaces for accounting, product photography, and marketing: “Everything needed to support the manufacturing,” Jacques says. “It’s all right on site.”

The cookie room produces more than 80 cookies per minute! (Photo: Daniella Shin)

The cookie room produces more than 80 cookies per minute! (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Asked by a tour participant why he chose to keep his manufacturing business in New York City, despite the challenges presented by a search for an affordable, mid-sized industrial space, Jacques gave a short, impromptu speech outlining some of the key benefits of contemporary urban manufacturing: quality control and quality of life. “I like my life,” he began. “I like to have time for pleasure. If I opened up in another region, I’d have to spend my time traveling, and that’s it! Here, I can go to every one of my stores in one day. Do I really need to go get business in Las Vegas? My ego may tell me yes, but I think, maybe not.”

At Riva Precision, the group was met by CEO Ted Doudak. Informed that there was a short window of 15-20 minutes for the tour of his facility, Ted flashed a shocked smile. “Fifteen minutes! Fifteen minutes! Oh, we’ll need bikes!”

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Riva Precision occupies 37,000 square feet of space on the sixth floor of Building B. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Indeed, Riva’s 37,000-square-foot factory, to which the company re-located this past year after two decades in Long Island City, is cavernous–more than 15,000 square feet larger than their LIC facility had been. Most of the machines and workstations, which produce high-quality jewelry for clients like Tiffany & Co., are located in a single large room. One of the most fascinating machines produces the tiny, fine platinum chains often used in necklaces and bracelets, rapidly blasting a thin metal rod with a tiny laser beam to create and fuse each link around the previous one in barely a second. Riva is also home to a row of bulky computer numerical control (CNC) machines. Ted was pleased to inform the group that he had worked out a partnership with a tool maker next door to share the use of the CNC machines. When Riva isn’t using them, they often produce a variety of metal tools, allowing both manufacturers to share in the costs of owning and operating these very high-tech pieces of machinery, and illustrating another important benefit of co-location for manufacturing businesses that often require expensive equipment.

Ted Doudak explains the use of the "lost wax method" in jewelry production. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Ted L explains the use of the “lost wax method” in jewelry production. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Ted was a fan of BAT for many of the same reasons that Jacques had listed, and quality of life was, yet again, an important consideration in Riva’s re-location; Ted (and many of his employees) live within walking distance. At the end of the day, this seemed to be one of the key takeaways from the tour: far from detracting from the livability of the surrounding neighborhood, BAT is an amenity, providing a range of jobs for New Yorkers at different skill levels within walking distance of affordable housing and mass transportation.

A factory worker at Riva Precision mans a machine that uses tiny laser blasts to create fine chain link. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

A factory worker at Riva Precision mans a machine that uses tiny laser blasts to create fine chain link. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

After the tour, workers could be seen hanging out on the patio in front of the neighboring Building A, where the complex’s managers had set up picnic tables with a panoramic view of the harbor. If there is room for manufacturing in contemporary New York, it will need to fit into the diverse weave of mixed uses that make up the city’s urban fabric, rather than standing off to the side, by itself. At BAT, it is easy to start to imagine how this might look.

Riva's facility looks out over the Sunset Park neighborhood of south Brooklyn, a solid, working class neighborhood. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Riva’s facility looks out over the Sunset Park neighborhood of south Brooklyn, a solid, working class neighborhood. (Photo: Daniella Shin)

Tour Recap: Standard Motors Products Building

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When the 300,000-square-foot Standard Motors Products Building was completed in 1919, it was at the heart of one of the most important manufacturing hubs in the world. Situated on an ideal site with direct access to the sprawling Sunnyside Railroad Yard, the building was and remains a dominant presence on the Long Island City skyline, serving as a reminder of the area’s past role as an industrial powerhouse. But today, while Standard Motors leases space here for its corporate offices, the manufacturing of automotive parts has been moved off-site.

That’s not to say that manufacturing has left the building entirely. In fact, the opposite is true: since purchasing the building from Standard Motors in 2008, Acumen Capital Partners LLC has renovated the structure and worked to integrate a mix of light manufacturing spaces into a multi-use hive of activity, a virtual city-within-a-city. On Friday, May 16th, Open House New York toured the building with Vertical Urban Factory curator and project director Nina Rappaport, who explained how the factory’s adaptation over time reflects the larger trends that have been re-shaping urban manufacturing for the past few decades.

The tour, which kicked off OHNY’s and the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Making it Here series on manufacturing in New York, started in the building’s lobby, an attractive space designed by Bromley Caldari Architects in 2010 that features rotating exhibits. Nina began by outlining some of the themes of her Vertical Urban Factory project, through which she has spent the past few years researching the history of urban factory architecture as well as exploring how the evolution of manufacturing into “smaller, cleaner, and greener” processes has impacted cities. Rather than being thought of as dirty and undesirable, Nina believes that factories can and should be places that enhance the communities in which they are located. “Cities,” argued Nina, “still need labor. So it’s important that we consider how we can make factories places of pride for workers.”

Brooklyn Grange’s flagship farm, which contains 1.2 million pounds of earth that were lifted into place by crane, occupies the building’s roof. (Photo: OHNY)

Brooklyn Grange’s flagship farm, which contains 1.2 million pounds of earth that were lifted into place by crane, occupies the building’s roof. (Photo: OHNY)

Brooklyn Grange, the first stop on the tour, offered a striking example of one way that Acumen has attempted to do just that. The Grange’s first industrial-scale farm opened on the roof of the Standard Motors Products Building in 2010. It took a week to lift more than 1.2 million pounds of earth up by crane, creating what is now one of the largest rooftop soil farms in the world (along with the Grange’s second farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which opened in 2012). Today, this one-acre (43,000-square-foot) farm not only produces fresh fruits and vegetables, it hosts seasonal community farmers markets, and provides educational programming to more than 7,000 kids from local schools every year through a partnership with City Growers.

The Grange takes advantage of the Standard Motors Products Building’s solid industrial architecture, which includes a concrete structural frame with “mushroom columns” that can support heavier loads—and the farm returns the favor. “The farm acts like a blanket on the roof,” explained farm manager Brad Flemming, who led the Grange portion of the tour. “It’s lowered energy costs throughout the building.”

Farm manager Brad Flemming introduces participants to the chickens that live in the Grange’s rooftop coop. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

Farm manager Brad Flemming introduces participants to the chickens that live in the Grange’s rooftop coop. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

Back inside, Nina led the group down to Standard Motors’ headquarters, which features a small exhibit on the company’s 95-year history that includes dozens of parts and components that were once manufactured on site. In fact, the company’s manufacturing operations—95% of which once took place in the LIC building, employing more than 2,000 people at its peak—only just left the site in 2008.

Nina leads the group through the gallery that displays almost a century’s worth of Standard Motors products, once manufactured on-site. (Photo: OHNY)

Nina leads the group through the gallery that displays almost a century’s worth of Standard Motors products, once manufactured on-site. (Photo: OHNY)

The vacancy left by Standard Motors’ relocation was quickly occupied by a variety of niche manufacturers, including Gailer, a print finishing company that specializes in foil stamping, embossing, die cutting, and laminating. Gailer occupies several thousand square feet on the third floor of the building, where they employ 45 people. In touring the space, Mike Pinciotto provided demonstrations of how various pieces of heavy machinery are used to create a wide range of high-quality printed products, from customized invitations to booklets to media kits.

Gailer’s Mike Pinciotto (second from left) explains how the various pieces of heavy machinery in the facility were lifted in through the windows, by crane. (Photo: OHNY)

Gailer’s Mike Pinciotto (second from left) explains how the various pieces of heavy machinery in the facility were lifted in through the windows, by crane. (Photo: OHNY)

Gailer was founded at a time when New York City was the center of the nation’s printing industry; today, the company works with a wide and diverse range of mostly local clients. Their competitive edge is in their proximity to their market, as the process of print finishing can be very complex, and every job is unique. “Designers will design [a job] and send it to us, and sometimes we really have to struggle with it to figure out how to make it work,” Mike explained. This requires creativity, not to mention some highly specialized skills that employees at Gailer learn over the span of their careers. “Learning the machines is like an apprenticeship. It takes years.”

Shelves full of foil await the stamping presses. (Photo: OHNY)

Shelves full of foil await the stamping presses. (Photo: OHNY)

After Gailer, the tour made several stops at smaller firms that gave participants a chance to see the range of spaces in the huge facility that once served a single massive manufacturing operation—and how different types of firms are coexisting. The tour included visits to Jenex Graphics, a commercial printer; Caples Jefferson, an architecture firm; and VanDeb Editions, a print maker that works with local artists to create works of art through etching and monotype. This range of spaces helped participants to better understand the spatial needs of manufacturing in a city where the majority of manufacturers employ fewer than ten people.

Jenex Graphics employs seven people in their facility in the basement of the building; the majority of manufacturers in NYC today employ fewer than 10 people. (Photo: OHNY)

Jenex Graphics employs seven people in their facility in the basement of the building; the majority of manufacturers in NYC today employ fewer than 10 people. (Photo: OHNY)

The tour of the Standard Motors Products Building gave participants an opportunity to experience, firsthand, how manufacturing spaces can (and do) coexist happily with office space, arts spaces, and other uses. Through the addition of amenities like the Brooklyn Grange farm (which almost all of the other businesses mentioned, fondly, at various points in their presentations) and ground-level retail spaces created in former truck bays along Northern Boulevard, Acumen has created a dynamic complex that incorporates industry while improving the surrounding neighborhood—supporting Nina’s argument that integrating “smaller, cleaner, and greener” manufacturing back into our neighborhoods can create a more equitable city by giving workers a sense of pride in the places where they work.

VanDeb Editions co-founder Deborah Freedman explains how her facility produces limited runs of prints for a variety of NYC-based artists. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)

VanDeb Editions co-founder Deborah Freedman explains how her facility produces limited runs of prints for a variety of NYC-based artists. (Photo: Nina Rappaport)


OHNY and NYCEDC thank Nina, Acumen, and all of the businesses that welcomed participants into their spaces for the inaugural Making it Here tour.