Job recovery slow on the North Fork

10/27/2010 2:08 PM |



KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Handyman Ernie Fox checks equipment on a boat at Sea Tow in Southold, where, after a brief hiccup in 2008 that required workers to accept a pay cut to save jobs, salary levels were soon restored and the company continues to grow. Local business owners’ outlook on the future balances optimism with caution.

A sampling of North Fork business owners shows they are more optimistic than pessimistic about the regional job market.

Some admit the economic downturn has resulted in some layoffs or loss of jobs through attrition. And they agree some jobs won’t be recovered because remaining personnel will cover the bases.

ATLANTIS MARINE WORLD

The most optimistic picture was drawn by Atlantis Marine World general manager Brian DeLuca. Because the company is in the process of building a 100-room Hyatt Place hotel, banquet center and exhibit space adjacent to the Riverhead aquarium, it has been a year for creating construction jobs.

Mr. DeLuca estimated that 150 construction workers are employed at the site. He’s already hiring staff for the hotel, banquet center and exhibit space, anticipating that 75 to 125 permanent jobs will be created. Although still about eight months away from opening, Mr. DeLuca wants them to be ready to hit the ground running on opening day.

As for Atlantis Marine World’s ongoing operation, off season, about 150 people are employed off-season and about 250 during the summer. Many summer workers are students who return to school in the fall.

While this summer’s business wasn’t the best, it remained steady, Mr. DeLuca said. Sunny weekends brought a lot of people to the North Fork, but because of the heat, many spent their days at the beach instead of in downtown Riverhead, he said.

“Nonetheless, we are tremendously optimistic,” Mr. DeLuca said.

SEA TOW INTERNATIONAL

“We’re a little unique,” said Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer of Southold-based Sea Tow International. His company not only serves boaters in distress, but also assists in situations like the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Sea Tow has also diversified into building pontoon boats to work on at oil spill sites, he said. His workers are also involved in reseeding oyster beds in southern states, he added.

When the stock market crashed and companies began laying off workers in 2008-09, Capt. Frohnhoefer asked his staff to take a 5 percent pay cut to save jobs. They agreed and, within a few months, Sea Tow was able to restore the pay cut, he said.

Because the company has operations around the world, it continues to grow, which means job opportunities are growing too, he said. Even on the North Fork, where he employs about 50 workers, he continues to hire staff and is always looking for good people, he said. During the summer, Sea Tow employes between 500 and 600 workers worldwide, he said.

Business was about 30 percent better this summer than last, Capt. Frohnhoefer said. People who kept their boats in port last year were more inclined to take them out on the water this summer as gasoline prices declined. Still, with all the optimism about Sea Tow’s business, the captain saw a very slow recovery from the Great Recession.

He is skeptical about other businesses adding staff and believes there are questions about how health care reform is going to affect small businesses.

“Small business is going to hurt. But maybe the East End is a little recession-proof,” Capt. Frohnhoefer said.

“You can’t stand still,” he added. “You have to keep moving.”

STIDD SYSTEMS

Walter Gezari of STIDD Systems in Greenport takes a philosophical approach to the economy.

“Every job begins with a purchase order,” Mr. Gezari said. His company has been a longtime government contractor, fabricating boat seats and other marine parts, but also serves luxury yacht owners.

Those who place orders with him now aren’t so much customers of the past as people who have come into money — largely Wall Street money — and are looking to spend.

As for people who find too much month left after their paychecks are spent, they can’t cut spending to get out of the red, Mr. Gezari said. “The only solution is to make more money,” he said.

His quick answer for how to do that in a jobless economy: open a hamburger stand. It’s a business that has never failed in the United States, he said.

“The first thing that you’ve got to ditch is the whole idea of security,” Mr. Gezari said. He sees the recession as a natural part of a cycle and isn’t sure anyone can shorten it.

When consumers were buying high-ticket items manufactured abroad, they weren’t thinking about how their purchases were promoting jobs offshore, not at home, Mr. Gezari said.

At STIDD, about 90 percent of the positions that existed at the beginning of the Great Recession are still filled. The other 10 percent evaporated, but only as people left the company. By cross-training remaining personnel, Mr. Gezari said he was able to keep his manufacturing arm functioning without hiring replacements.

RIVERHEAD BUILDING SUPPLY

With nine stores, including those in Riverhead and Greenport, Edgar Goodale has seen a downturn in his business as people delay construction work in the tight economy. He said he can’t quantify it, but there have been some layoffs and he’s not hiring until business picks up.

The winter months are never the best for his business, he said. Whether or not next spring will see an upswing remains to be seen.

“I’m not that terribly pessimistic, but I’m not optimistic either,” he said. He’s taking a “wait and see” stance, but predicting that it will be years before the economy achieves a full recovery.

jlane@timesreview.com

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