EASTON — Just one day after the federal government shutdown ended, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik toured the Hollingsworth & Vose manufacturing plant and heard concerns from a growing industry.
Stefanik talked about her efforts to work out DACA and how using the program as a bargaining chip during budget discussions is not her preferred way of getting things done in Washington.
“I oppose government shutdowns and I think it is Washington at its worst. I voted in support of keeping the government open when it passed the House, and I voted in support keeping the government open when the Senate finally got its act together and the Senate Democrats stopped playing politics with our government funding,” Stefanik said.
She noted the 2013 shutdown and heeded that U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand should take their own advice, which was “stop playing politics when it comes to keeping the government open.”
When it comes to DACA, Stefanik said, “DACA conversations are ongoing. I am part of a bipartisan bill that has been introduced to solve DACA, but also increases border security. I do think we will come to a resolution; we have to come to a resolution. We have to fix DACA and it is part of our job as a member of Congress, but we should not be shutting down the government.”
She expressed concern about border security and Fort Drum, which reside in the 21st Congressional District. Local attractions, such as Saratoga National Cemetery contacted her office with concerns caused by the shutdown.
Stefanik also proposed the need for a two-year budget process and for the federal government to “stop managing from crisis to crisis.”
With the shutdown behind Congress until the next deadline on Feb. 8, Stefanik focused on local matters which included a visit and tour of the air filtration and battery separation manufacturer on the banks of the Batten Kill.
Hollingsworth & Vose Operations Manager Ron Zimmerman led a tour expressing the need for a skilled workforce for an ever-changing industry.
“We need mechanics, instrumentation experts and people that can trouble shoot,” Zimmerman said.
Technical Manager Stephanie Picard said, “The industry has seen a lot of activity and a lot of growth.”
She said research is underway to expand into the solar and vehicle markets and new plants are coming online in Georgia and outside of Boston for the international company.
“Manufacturing needs talent. Shift work is tough, but it is a personal choice,” Picard said.
Picard noted the competitive industry and neighboring companies such as GlobalFoundries, Essity, Finch Paper, Irving Tissue and International Paper seeking similar help.
The company employs about 200 workers at its two Washington County locations. It has formed an apprenticeship to train its own workers and has teamed with SUNY Adirondack and high schools to bring students in for tours interested in STEM.
The program officially got underway this month in hopes to fill the necessary “skilled labor force.”
During a question and answer session, Plant Manager Stacey Campbell said a “skilled labor force is a primary for a company that combines old school with new technology.”
Zimmerman said electrical workers — otherwise known as instrumentation workers — are the most difficult to find.
“Problem solving, critical thinking to solve problems is necessary,” he said.
The facilities also operate on renewable energy. Campbell said the plant produces 40 percent of its own energy by hydroelectricity and solar. The company owns three of the five dams on the Batten Kill, as well as a large solar farm on Old Schuylerville Road.
Zimmerman said they have hydroelectricity units down and would like to refurbish them, but the capital investment does not match the return on investment.
Stefanik noted that “hydro has not been given the same incentives as solar and wind.” She vowed to help introduce more hydro grant programs.
The plant also faces an uncertain future besides its workforce. The impending replacement of the historic county Route 113 bridge that connects Easton and Greenwich is set for the summer. The county and state effort will go out to bid shortly, Zimmerman said.
Concerns exist if water will be diverted away from the company’s hydroelectric dam.