If you want to make sparks fly, there are some folks at Graham Manufacturing in Batavia who want to talk with you.
Graham makes big things out of big pieces of metal, and that means welding. Graham invests a lot of money in training the people it hires so they learn to become world-class welders.
"We've got a welding school now where we're training our own welders," said Don Fonda, plant supervisor at Graham. "We partnered with Arc and Flame in Rochester. We're paying for people to take classes there. They're actually Graham employees, and we pay them to go to classes. Those are 12-week classes. If they do well, they come here. If they do so-so, we send them for another 12 weeks."
Plant Operations Manager/Commercial Randy Franklin said the welding work Graham needs is specialized and requires a great deal of skill.
"We have really high-quality standards here," Franklin said.
He explained, "We're not just building widgets. It's not the same every single time. We like people who can solve problems. There's a variability in the workflow. It's a good place to work. I mean, it's been around for over 80 years, so it's been a pretty decent place as a bedrock or just providing an opportunity for people in the area."
When Graham, which has always been based in Batavia, was a smaller company, BOCES provided three or four young welders a year that Graham could hire, but now, with 300 employees locally and $150 million in annual revenue, there's a bigger demand for welders, as well as other manufacturing specialties, at Graham, so hiring has become more of a challenge.
Alfred State has a solid welding program, and it is a source of new hires for Graham, but as Fonda explained, if the graduates are not already from the GLOW region, they're likely not coming to Batavia for a job.
So he and Franklin want to get the word out to more local residents looking for a rewarding career -- good pay and solid benefits -- that Graham might be a good fit.
"I think there's a perception that all of this type of equipment is being built elsewhere in the world," Franklin said. "We haven't done a really good job of broadcasting where Graham is and what we do. So we wanted to try to get some more eyeballs on the type of equipment that we build and the opportunities for people in the area."
Graham's longstanding specialty has been equipment used in the oil and gas industries, extracting and refining fuels, but in recent years, Graham has fulfilled contracts for the Department of Defense, fabricating equipment for aircraft carriers and submarines.
"Oil and gas is very cyclical -- demand follows, essentially, the value of a barrel of oil," Franklin said. "The executives, like 10 to 12 years ago, they wanted to be able to even that out because no one enjoys layoffs. They wanted to find a nice baseline, so they went after the Department of Defense."
That large load leaving Graham down Clinton Street a few weeks ago -- that was a piece of equipment for an aircraft carrier. That's all Franklin could say about it.
But the folks at Graham are clearly proud of that shipment. There's a picture of it on a wall in one of the plant buildings. It's the largest load of the year -- 225 long, 17 feet wide, with a gross vehicle weight of 486,000 pounds.
Another poster on the same wall notes that Graham has shipped 2,584 pieces of equipment with a gross weight of 5,980,587 pounds.
For all the success of Graham, and the company's reputation as a place where people work long careers, it's hard finding the right people in Batavia, Franklin acknowledged. And it's getting hard.
"It's tough being in Batavia," Franklin said. "You know, it's in between two cities in New York State, so that makes it difficult. In those higher population areas, obviously, it's easier to pull in people, and then, to top it off, the state doesn't make it very easy to maintain a business and hire people."
The rapid growth of the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, the growth of WNY STAMP and the related business growth in Pembroke is also making the job market more competitive, Franklin agreed. All of that growth is driven by incentives offered by GCEDC and the state's economic development packages.
"I don't know if our politicians really truly understand that the decisions that they make have ripple effects," Franklin said. "It's hard to be a competitive business when other new businesses are receiving tax breaks. We just have to try to be flexible and figure out different ways to be competitive with them."
As an example, he said this past summer, a benefit Graham offered was allowing employees to work four nine-hour shifts during the week so they get a half-day off on Friday, and hence a longer weekend to stay at home or take a brief vacation.
Franklin said Graham is looking at other creative ways to offer benefits to Graham employees.
"But regardless of where you are in the country, or even the world, hiring people is a challenge," Franklin added. "In that way, it's not like we're unique to this area."
There are currently 35 openings at Graham in a variety of jobs -- welders, of course, but also engineers, CNC machine operators, buyers, and more -- and Fonda said Graham might be a hidden little gem for area residents who are looking for a career.
"I don't think a lot of people would even know we're here," Fonda said. "We're kind of tucked back on a little street. You might see us a little bit from Main Street, and maybe a bit behind Miss Batavia, but for the most part, I don't think a lot of people know we're here. And I'm not sure a lot of people know we're hiring."