FALCONER - Thanks to a solid public-private partnership, the flexibility of the UAW Local 338 Union leaders and the productivity of the crew at SKF Aeroengine, Falconer will be the new home to a state-of-the-art Heat Treat facility which ensures more than 600 people will have their jobs for years to come.
Company officials met with local politicians, dignitaries and union leaders at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown on Monday to announce the landmark decision to invest in Chautauqua County.
SKF will directly invest almost $7 million in capital equipment and lease a planned $11 million building with groundbreaking scheduled to begin in February and construction to conclude in 2011. Once the new facility is up and running, the Jamestown plant will be closed entirely and operations will be consolidated with all workers under one roof.
Local politicians, SKF officials and union members gathered at the Robert H. Jackson Center on Monday to announce the company’s plan to invest millions into a new plant in Falconer.
P-J photo by Robert Rizzuto
"It is truly impossible to overstate the importance of SKF's decision to build a new facility in Falconer," said Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards. "A few years ago, it wasn't looking like we would reach this day. Try to imagine what things would be like if we lost SKF, and 687 people were no longer able to apply their trade and earn a living in the county. With more than $70 million in payroll, it would be devastating."
The Heat Treat facility, which completes a crucial part of the ball bearing making process, is currently done at the Jamestown plant. And although Falconer was ultimately chosen as the site, it was in heated competition with several southern states as well as foreign countries.
According to company officials, decision makers were swayed for several reasons which led to the more than 600 local workers being able to breathe a collective sigh of relief after a not-so-great business year including several layoffs.
"With this new plant and our precision products, we have the opportunity to continue to compete on the global market and expand as the years pass," said George Dettloff, president and CEO of SKF USA.
Paul Bourgon, director of SKF Aeroengine Operations, said that the new facility will include brand new technology that will make Falconer the premier location on the planet for ball bearings.
"In my role as supervisor of units all over the world, we chose Falconer not only because of the financial incentives, but because of the flexibility the union has shown working together with us," Bourgon said. "This will be the first place in the world to implement some of this technology and in turn, make Falconer an international showcase."
Dan Martin, chairman of the UAW Local 338, said that the workers at SKF should be proud, because their hard work is what guaranteed their future.
"Four years ago, this wouldn't have happened," he said. "But we've been working with upper management to work out a way of doing things that we all can agree on and the result is that everyone benefits."
Also present at the news conference Monday was Martin Fernlund, the operations director at SKF Aeroengine's Falconer plant, who reflected on what the decision could mean for the future of an area with such a long relationship with ball bearings.
"This will help us as a company come out of the recession much stronger than when we went into it," Fernlund said. "People here have been making bearings for more than 100 years, and that's something they can be proud of. Now, we know that tradition will continue from many more years."
On the development side of things, Bill Daly, CEO of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, and Bob Iszard of Empire State Development echoed the sentiments of Pierre Chagnon, director of human services for SKF's North America operations, as they extended their appreciation to the politicians they worked with who helped provide the financial incentives that make investing in Chautauqua County a worthwhile endeavor.
State Sen. Cathy Young and State Assemblyman William Parment were credited by all in attendance as friends to the company and motivators for helping the project become reality.
"This was not a slam dunk, I hope people understand we were in strict competition with several other places," Sen. Young said. "But in the end, we proved that Chautauqua County is a great place to do business and we want the company to know that we won't let you down."
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi was also in attendance, and although SKF is officially leaving Jamestown, he said he was supportive because losing the plant altogether would decimate a community he wants to improve. Teresi, along with the Jamestown BPU, were formally thanked by the company as well.
Assemblyman Parment relayed a story of when he visited the MRC plant years ago, prior to SKF's acquisition of the bearing division in 1986.
"When I visited, (longtime employee) Mike Piazza told me that these were the machines that won the war," he said, referring to World War II. "Hopefully, everything made in Falconer will go toward peaceful purposes but should that day come when they are producing for military applications, we can take pride that the talented people of Chautauqua County will at the helm, doing what they do best. 2009 has not been a great year, but this is a great way for it to end."