Eastman in Financial Times U.S. Manufacturing Coverage

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What role for the workers in Trump’s American factory revival? Excerpt below.

Like other fading industrial regions, the Buffalo area voted for Mr Trump. Although New York state overall went for Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, the area around Buffalo backed Mr Trump by 50 per cent to 46 per cent.

Alongside the visible marks of decay, however, some Buffalo manufacturers are thriving. Near the city centre, on a site it has occupied for more than a century, family-owned Eastman Machine employs 122 people making cutting machines for fabrics, including simple handheld tools and advanced computer-controlled systems. It exports half its products to customers making everything from aircraft to T-shirts, and even sells well in emerging economies such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.

One of the ways Eastman stays competitive is that labour is a very small proportion of its total costs: only about 3 per cent. Rivals in China or elsewhere may pay lower wages, but that does not give them much of an advantage.

“If you can offer solutions to customers’ issues, you can continue to survive,” says Robert Stevenson, the chief executive who is the fourth generation of his family to run the company. “American manufacturing is superior in quality and reliability.”

Labour costs have been kept down, he adds, by a sharp increase in productivity achieved by more efficient working practices. “In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, work rules just strangled manufacturing. You had to have more workers than you needed,” he says. “We said to our guys: ‘We are committed to manufacturing here. But you need to change’.”

Where once, rules stipulated one worker per machine, Eastman can now have one worker running three computer-controlled machines.

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