By Steve Chen
Crystal Window & Door Systems is a national manufacturer of vinyl and aluminum windows and doors with five production facilities and distribution in more than 40 states around the country. While our main factory and corporate headquarters are located in New York City, we have expanded production operations over the past 30 years to Chicago; Riverside, California; St. Louis; and now Benton Twp. in Lackawanna County.
In October 2015, Crystal Windows acquired a 226-acre industrial property off Interstate 81 with an existing 336,000-square-feet building. Since that time, we’ve renovated a significant part of the building, begun production operations and hired 50 workers from the local community. Five-year plans call for further building renovations, expansion of production and a workforce of perhaps 350 to 400 employees. Tens of millions of dollars will be invested in the facility and will be generated in new economic activity for the area.
Great news, of course, but why did Crystal Window choose Northeast Pennsylvania for this large expansion? What can be learned from Crystal’s decision-making process that might be useful for attracting other major firms to the area? I’ll try to explain some of the reasons why Crystal, a New York City-based manufacturer has decided to grow in Lackawanna County.
First is the area’s availability of large industrial properties at affordable prices. In New York City and much of its surrounding environs, it is impossible to find properties for manufacturing that exceed 50 acres. Smaller spaces go for wildly exorbitant prices since industrial property competes with commercial, retail, office and multi-family housing real estate. For example, a recent review of existing industrial buildings for sale in New York City reveals an average list price per square foot of $627, compared to $30 to $55 per square foot for existing industrial buildings for sale in Lackawanna County,
The existing building on the new Crystal property, while not immediately suitable for our operations, has a usable quality construction building envelope. This enabled us to shave at least a year off production startup, compared to a scenario requiring construction of a completely new building. As we modify the building, we are seeing that Northeast Pennsylvania construction costs are lower than New York City’s by perhaps 30 percent, another factor in the region’s favor.
Since our Northeast Pennsylvania factory will integrate its operations with our New York plant, proximity to New York City is critical and Lackawanna County has that going for it. The travel time between the two facilities by car or truck is approximately three hours. A round trip with time for a meeting, material delivery or finished window pickup can easily be made in a regular workday.
The Scranton area also offers extraordinarily good highway access. Interstates 81, 380, 84 and 80 all serve the region, making many major metropolitan areas well within a day’s drive for delivery of finished products. The great highway system and Crystal Window’s very close proximity in Benton Twp. to I-81 exits 201 and 202 also make it convenient for employees commuting to work.
The Lackawanna economic development officials and the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce have been superbly helpful. Without their involvement, Crystal might never have been aware of the real estate opportunities in the area. They also played a proactive role in the final real estate purchase closing, which was invaluable.
Their knowledgeable, experienced staff understands the needs of businesses and know ho to assist dynamic, growing companies. Through their introductions, Crystal has made dozens of valuable contacts with the local business community, contractors, material suppliers, professional services and government officials.
The Greater Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, with more than 500,000 residents, provides Crystal Windows with a great potential workforce. We’ve hired more than 50 to date and plan on hiring hundreds more in the next few years. New employees come to us with a strong work ethic, initiative, knowledge, skills and in many cases practical manufacturing experience. Workers who understand, appreciate and are interested in manufacturing are increasingly hard to find in many areas of the country.
A company is only as good as its employees and we are very happy that Northeast Pennsylvania offers workers so positively inclined toward manufacturing.
Beyond these reasons, the region offers many benefits yet to be realized. Transportation of raw materials by rail to our new factory in larger bulk quantities may provide cost efficiencies far beyond what trucking provides. The Scranton area offers such transportation options, and we’ve begun preliminary exploration of possible rail line extensions to our facility.
Also the area abounds with institutions of higher education. Through internships, graduate recruiting or production and logistics joint projects, local two-year and four-year universities and colleges will surely play a future role in Crystal Windows’ growth and success.
Northeast Pennsylvania stands in stark contrast to New York City which has innumerable direct and indirect costs of doing business. Taxes, regulations, mandates, fees, tolls and other costs that come with manufacturing in New York City challenge us daily. Things like high local sales tax, municipal income taxes on employees, restrictive and unnecessary labor mandates, exorbitant bridge tolls and unrelenting traffic congestion are the straws that broke the camel’s back and contributed to Crystal’s decision to expand in the greater Scranton area and not in New York City.
All the advantages Northeast Pennsylvania offers reflects a region with an extremely supportive business climate and one especially focused on manufacturing. These regional attributes are important to promote. Manufacturing and other industrial businesses forced out of rising cost metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia, or states like Connecticut or New Jersey, are seeking new locations with just such a supportive business climate. Crystal Windows is delighted to have chosen Northeast Pennsylvania and is enthusiastic that other manufacturers make the same great choice.
Steve Chen is chief operating officer, Crystal Window & Door Systems Ltd. Visit crystalwindows.com.