In a rare show of support, scores of people came to the City Council meeting on Dec. 22 to encourage passage of a 15-year tax abatement that will allow a manufacturing company to retain operations in Jersey City.
This was unusual for two reasons. In most cases, people come to council meetings to speak out against abatements. Also, most abatements over the last decade have gone to residential or office tower development, not to manufacturing companies.
Eastern Millwork, Inc. is a high tech company that makes cabinets and other high quality woodworking products. The company employs 38 full time people who each earn an annual average of about $50,000 plus full medical benefits.
The company was established in 1994, and has been at 18 Chapel Ave. since 2004.
The company has to leave that location next year because of historic chromium contamination that requires the building to be knocked down in order to remediate.
“Eastern Millwork is the wave of the future.” – Council President Rolando Lavarro
They plan to double their capacity in order to meet a growing demand for their products.
The goal is to have the new building constructed and open for operations by February 2017. This would result in hiring additional people.
The company’s business is so strong that it did not have to lay off people during the recession following the 2008 crash, said Councilman Frank Gajewski, who supported the abatement.
A good opportunity for jobs in Jersey City
Councilman Michael Yun said the company offers internships and is involved in a joint program with the Hudson County Schools of Technology and other local schools for training young people.
The company tends to advance people even if hired at entry level, and often sends promising candidates out of state for training.
The company uses German trained engineers, but wants to hire local, and needs young talent interested in getting into high tech manufacturing.
Pedro Martinez, an employee at Eastern Mill, said he started at the company without having a high school diploma.
“They gave me an opportunity to do more,” he said. He was recently promoted to supervisor. “Eastern Mill works is doing great things in the community.”
Julio Carmarleo said he started by cleaning up the shop, and now is an operator. The company sent him out to get advanced training.
Allyson Krone, assistant principal at Hudson County Schools of Technology, said the company helped establish an academy at the school to train kids in high tech manufacturing.
“Forty percent of the students are from Jersey City, 85 percent are minority,” she said.
The company uses a system of woodworking so efficient that it can produce high quality products in a nearly sterile environment and it has provided products for performance spaces at Lincoln Center, woodwork for the entire New York Times building in Manhattan, and products for a variety of corporate headquarters, including work for Goldman Sachs in Jersey City.
Andrew Campbell, president of Eastern Millwork Inc., said the technologically-advanced operations allow the company to compete worldwide and still manufacture in America.
Campbell said he connected with a fellow innovator while at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and developed a system of woodworking so efficient with equipment that runs so quietly that workers didn’t need the traditional ear protection typical of other woodworking facilities.
Campbell said the company has developed a combination of automation technology and lean manufacturing to provide a quality product in a competitive market.
Computer modeling techniques allow fewer workers to oversee complex operations more accurately than traditional methods. These methods, he said, not only monitor the cutting and assembly of pieces inside the shop, but also track these pieces to the site of installation using coding techniques similar to those used by package delivery companies.
He said Eastern Millwork has become a leader in the field and a model for the industry, reinventing the concept of manufacturing in America.
Gajewski said he was impressed with how the company conducts business, treats workers, gives back to the community, and provides training for high tech jobs.
“Eastern Millwork is the wave of the future,” said Council President Rolando Lavarro. “Not just for Jersey City, but for the nation. It has pipelines through our schools to provide jobs, and has partnered with Jersey City. I see this as something like what is happening in places like Seattle. If we do not support them, then Jersey City will fall behind.”
Keeping the company in Jersey City
Last year, the council modified the redevelopment plan for the company’s neighborhood to allow Eastern Millwork to continue operations. When originally proposed in 2008, the plan was designed to redevelop an industrial area for residential use.
But a number of the companies in the area were still in operation so the city decided to modify the plan to accommodate those businesses. Eastern Millwork had been considering a move to Bayonne.
In 2011 the company received a state grant to upgrade the skills of its workforce, a program to which it contributed its own funds.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.