BOOSTING BROOKLYN APPAREL
Byline: Arthur Friedman
NEW YORK — Howard Golden doesn’t want Brooklyn’s garment industry to go the way of the Dodgers, Ebbets Field and Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park.
That’s why Golden, the borough president, initiated a study of Brooklyn’s garment industry to explore ways to maintain a diversified business and to improve conditions and opportunities for the apparel manufacturing sector.
“Brooklyn’s garment industry is a vital component of economic life in the borough,” Golden said during an interview last week at Brooklyn Borough Hall. “If government provides the necessary support, then industry will continue to be a stable source of employment into the 21st century.”
Last month, Golden issued a blueprint for Brooklyn’s garment industry, where some 20,000 workers, employed by 750 apparel and textile firms, represent 34 percent of the borough’s manufacturing employment and about 17.4 percent of the city’s apparel production jobs. In addition, these apparel and textile firms generated $42 million in taxes for the city in 1994.
The 38-page report, entitled “Brooklyn Can Sew Up the Garment Industry,” calls for a series of actions aimed at revitalizing apparel manufacturing. It drew upon a survey of the industry conducted by Golden’s office and analysis by the New York State Department of Labor.
A key recommendation is to establish a Brooklyn Garment Incubator and Technology Center to support the industry. Golden has allocated $300,000 for that in his capital budget for the current fiscal year.
In addition, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. has obtained a $1.7 million grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to design and implement the incubator project.
This grant, along with $700,000 in Navy Yard capital funds, would be used to renovate the Navy Yard’s Building 292 by reactivating two elevators, upgrading heating, plumbing and electrical systems, re-roofing the building and creating 70,000 square feet of rentable space.
However, Golden said he expects to decide within the next four weeks whether the Navy Yard or the Sunset Park section would be chosen as the site of the incubator and technology center. Golden has allocated $50,000 for the borough’s Chamber of Commerce to study and recommend which site would benefit best.
“Sunset Park has a trained pool of Asian immigrant garment workers and has the benefit of being an Economic Development Zone,” Golden noted. “On the other hand, the Navy Yard is a Free Trade Zone. So either site is great and has something special to offer.”
Golden said if the Navy Yard is not chosen for the apparel project, its funds could still be earmarked for an incubator for another industry.
He said the concept for the apparel project parallels the revitalization and centralization of the printing industry at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
“A garment manufacturing incubator would benefit the industry by providing reduced space and energy costs and access to technology,” Golden said. “This incubator and technology facility, located in an industrial building designed to the specifications and needs of garment manufacturers, would reduce each firm’s costs through shared services.”
The report notes that the incubator would be attractive to small-to-medium-sized knitters, outerwear makers or millinery producers.
A Quick Response Technology Center within the incubator, Golden said, would not only make it a model manufacturing facility, but a place for all Brooklyn apparel firms to have access to the latest production and information-processing technologies. The QR center would be patterned after the Fashion Institute of Technology’s facility and would be planned and implemented with the assistance of Pratt Institute.
He said with retailers demanding more service and speed of production, Brooklyn manufacturers and contractors that make the transition to the production processes and information transfer technologies required to enter the QR environment stand to benefit.
The incubator and technology center is intended to be a partnership among government, business and academia, Golden noted. In the industry survey conducted for the report, 68.5 percent of respondents said they either did not plan to implement QR or they were not certain of what it was.
Chuck Kreiger, president of Augustus Clothiers, which has a factory in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn that manufactures women’s and men’s apparel, said in theory the plan “sounds wonderful.”
“If they could offer a duty-free benefit on exports and imports, it would be a real boon,” Kreiger said. “If they could really help my company become a state-of-the-art technological facility at a low-cost investment, that would be fantastic. And if the other cost savings they talk about are substantive, it could offset the high cost of manufacturing in the U.S., versus manufacturing abroad for a tenth of the labor cost. Then companies like mine could try to stay here.”
Kreiger felt the plan would likely not add any apparel production jobs to the city overall, but would draw many Chinatown and other Manhattan shops to Brooklyn.
Bruce Herman, president of the Garment Industry Development Corp., which provides technical and training assistance to New York apparel firms, said the GIDC is involved in the project and is working with local development corporations to implement the plan.
“Howard Golden’s report is a laudable, in-depth look at the largest manufacturing industry in Brooklyn,” Herman said. “It is a rare example of the role government can play in trying to find ways to grow our industry. It puts us where we need to be.’
Herman said he was optimistic that the project can go from paper plan to factory floor. He’s working with the borough president’s office and other industry players to add financing to the government seed money already in place.
Herman cited a similar project the GIDC is planning in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Dubbed the Fashion Industry Modernization Center, it will provide technology demonstration, training and educational services and management assistance to some 500 workers from more than 200 manufacturers each year, Herman noted.
“Technology is a key tool for a domestic manufacturer competing against importers and low-wage foreign production,” Herman said.
The Chinatown center is made possible by a $400,000 grant received this month from New York State to cover the start-up investment. The center is sponsored by the GIDC and the Empire State Development Corp.
“The industry is beginning to make a coordinated effort with a progressive view, which is setting up a system of services that helps modernize the industry,” Herman said. “Both the Brooklyn and Manhattan plans follow that same thinking.”
Carl Proper, assistant to UNITE president Jay Mazur, said: “It’s good that the borough is taking a look at an important industry and trying to do something about improving its conditions. Obviously, there is room for technological progress that must also include proper training.”
Proper said such technology, if utilized correctly, can help the domestic industry be more competitive with low-wage imports.
Not so optimistic was Seth Bodner, executive director of the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association. Bodner said he wrote Golden a letter in response to the report, telling him that the project would mean nothing if the New York legislative contingent doesn’t make its voice heard on national trade policy.
“Caribbean Basin parity is going to be a body blow to the textile industry and the cut-and-sew contractors,” Bodner said. “The other issue is that no matter how much technology they are given, Brooklyn contractors cannot compete with India and China. With that said, you have to appreciate the effort, along with the recognition that manufacturing jobs are important to the economy.”
To that end, the report states, “It is clear that although Brooklyn’s manufacturers and contractors cannot compete on price with basic garments that are produced in low-wage countries, they can adopt the required technology to develop QR relationships with retailers that require short turnaround and reduced lead times for their fashion driven merchandise.”
This same strategy includes implementation of technologies such as Electronic Data Interchange and Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing to become more efficient and competitive.
Golden also recommended the creation of a garment industrial park in either the Navy Yard or Sunset Park to attract new business. The report recommends that a local development corporation be enlisted to manage the industrial park, providing services such as security and day care centers.
Golden’s plan also calls for:
Providing “smart shop” incentives under which the city would offer tax exemptions for companies that implement QR and other new technologies in their factories. This is patterned after incentives developers receive to help them convert antiquated office space into technologically proficient administrative facilities.
A “Made in Brooklyn” campaign that would be aimed at developing new domestic and foreign markets for manufacturers and designers by promoting the borough as a center for ethnic designs. This could include a fashion show highlighting ethnic apparel from local designers.
Battling sweatshops by improving communication and coordination among city, state and federal investigative agencies responsible for insuring safe working conditions and fair pay for factory workers.
Publishing a directory of manufacturers, contractors and designers.
Reducing the effects of the reconstruction of the Gowanus Expressway on truck deliveries.
Golden, now in his 21st year as borough president, underscored the “unique characteristics” of Brooklyn that can “greatly benefit” apparel and textile firms. Those assets include low commercial rents, abundant industrial space, proximity to Manhattan designers, retail markets and showrooms, a large pool of skilled workers, a transportation infrastructure, and a solid potential for export of Brooklyn-made apparel.
According to the city’s Department of Business Services, 32 garment firms relocated to Brooklyn from Manhattan from 1991 to 1994 to take advantage of energy reduction and relocation assistance provided by the Borough Relocation Assistance Corp., whose aim is to free space for residential use in Manhattan by moving industrial firms to other boroughs.
“Creating jobs is the most important thing a borough president can do,” Golden said. “If we can also help legitimize sweatshop operators by offering them incentives to go straight, then we’ll be helping workers as well.”
Golden noted that apparel jobs in the city have been shifting from Manhattan to Brooklyn the last 10 years because of real estate prices.
“If we take jobs from Manhattan, it’s better for the city than those jobs leaving town altogether,” Golden said. “My first interest is what’s best for the citizens and the borough of Brooklyn.”
Golden said Brooklyn has undergone an economic renaissance in commercial development in recent years, noting the emergence of districts such as MetroTech, Pierrepont Plaza, Renaissance Plaza and Atlantic Center.
Maintaining and building the manufacturing sector is essential because many areas in the borough are dependent on the manufacturing base for entry-level and low-skilled employment, Golden said. In addition, manufacturing firms also create jobs for white-collar professionals such as lawyers, accountants and engineers.
Golden said he hopes to have the incubator and technology center in place by early 1998.
While Ebbets Field and Steeplechase Park are only memories, Golden, whose office is decorated with Dodgers memorabilia, says he still holds out hope for bringing back the team that moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
“The apparel project is going to happen, I have no doubts about that,” Golden said. “Bringing back the Dodgers is a dream, but sometimes dreams come true. We intend to put in a bid for the team some time soon. I might have to take the issue of territorial rights to the Supreme Court, but we intend to do everything we can to get the team back where it belongs.”
Brooklyn by the Numbers
NEW YORK — Brooklyn’s apparel and textile industries, after some difficult periods, have demonstrated relative stability from 1981 to 1993, and signs of growth since then.
From 1981 to 1993 — the most recent year for which such figures are available — the apparel industry took the steepest hits, dropping from 24,466 jobs to 14,263 jobs. In Manhattan, where 66.9 percent of the city’s apparel workers are employed, the job drop during the same 12-year period was 94,225 to 54,791. In comparison, overall manufacturing in the borough has slipped to 15 percent of Brooklyn’s total employment in 1993 from 22 percent in 1986.
According to the report “Brooklyn Can Sew Up the garment Industry,” the borough’s apparel employment fell 33 percent from 1981 to 1987, slowing to a 13 percent decline from 1987 to 1993. Nearly half of the city’s men’s and boys’ suit and coat manufacturing remains in the borough, while the hats, caps and millinery sector grew 95 percent from 1981 to 1993.
Women’s and misses’ apparel employed 70 percent of the city’s garment workers and was the largest sector for employment in each of New York’s five boroughs. About 55 percent of Brooklyn’s apparel production jobs were in women’s wear, up from 49.2 percent in 1987.
Brooklyn also remains the home for half the city’s textile jobs, with about 5,500 knitting mill workers making up 90 percent of the employment. This represents a 32 percent decrease in these jobs from 1981. However, the sector had an 11 percent job gain in 1993, and the textile finishing sector, the second largest employer in Brooklyn’s textile industry, saw a 29 percent employment gain that same year.
The borough’s Williamsburg section accounted for 15 percent of apparel and textile jobs in 1993, up from 10.4 percent in 1981. Other areas with substantial concentrations of employment are Bush Terminal with 14 percent and east Williamsburg with 13.4 percent, up from 6 percent in 1981. These areas also represent about half of textile employment. The Pratt area’s textile employment rose to 15 percent of overall jobs from 8.5 percent 12 years earlier.
In apparel production jobs, Bush Terminal was home to 18 percent of apparel jobs in 1993, followed by Williamsburg with 15 percent and Bay Ridge with 11 percent.
Described by clustering areas, the Williamsburg/Greenpoint, Sunset Park/Bush Terminal and Sunset Park/8th Avenue sections have the highest concentrations of apparel and textile factories.