WASHINGTON – Up to 350 union jobs in a cutting-edge industry could be coming to the former American Axle plant in Buffalo thanks to a growing partnership between a lithium battery manufacturer already located there and a major producer of electric-powered industrial vehicles.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer has been pushing for the deal between Viridi Parente Inc., which employs 45 at its lithium battery facility in Buffalo, and Doosan Bobcat, which makes vehicles used in construction, agriculture, landscaping and other industries. Schumer, a New York Democrat, told The Buffalo News that he spoke this week with Doosan Bobcat chief executive Scott Park to urge that the company establish an assembly operation in Buffalo.
“I made it clear to him, you know, that this axle plant is in one of the poorest ZIP codes in New York, but bringing good high-paying manufacturing jobs to this community is a game changer for the community – and they’d be greeted with open arms,” Schumer said.
A spokeswoman for Doosan Bobcat, Adrienne Olson, stressed that the company had not yet agreed to open a plant in Buffalo.
“Doosan Bobcat currently has no plans to locate manufacturing in Buffalo, and at this time we have no more information to add beyond what is in the release from Senator Schumer’s office,” she said, referring to a draft press release that Schumer shared with the company and The Buffalo News describing his call with the Doosan Bobcat’s CEO.
Nevertheless, Susan Molinari, a former Republican congresswoman from Staten Island who serves as senior adviser to Viridi Parente’s board and its chairman, said a series of meetings this week between Viridi Parente and Doosan Bobcat executives brought the two companies closer together.
“There’s a handshake that has occurred in terms of developing and growing a strategic partnership,” Molinari said.
The Doosan Bobcat spokeswoman acknowledged that the company is working with Viridi Parente’s Green Machine Equipment Inc. subsidiary, which makes lithium batteries for use in construction and waste disposal equipment along with delivery and other industrial vehicles.
“We can confirm our partnership with Green Machine to build technologies together,” Olson said. “We appreciate Sen. Schumer’s enthusiasm and support for manufacturing and electric vehicle technology.”
And Schumer is showing plenty of enthusiasm for locating a Doosan Bobcat plant at what was an American Axle facility until it closed in 2007. He said he told the Doosan Bobcat CEO that the Buffalo labor force is “the best in the country,” and that he would do anything he could to help grow the partnership between Doosan Bobcat and the Buffalo-based battery maker.
“I stand ready to help these companies plug into all the federal government has to offer to continue their mission of clean energy and to position New York as a global hub for green transportation manufacturing,” Schumer said.
People generally don’t think of Bobcat’s front-end loaders, excavators, tractors and mowers as green vehicles, but much more equipment such as those will likely have to switch to electronic propulsion in the coming years.
That’s because governments – including New York’s – are increasingly imposing “sustainability” requirements that will force government-owned equipment of that type to be electrically powered. Such requirements aim to phase out vehicles propelled by fossil fuels because their carbon emissions cause climate change.
Schumer noted that President Biden’s American Jobs Act also includes sustainability requirements.
“With that, there’s going to be a huge demand for these vehicles,” Schumer said.
Along with Schumer, the United Steelworkers of America – the union that would represent workers at the facility – has also been pushing to bring the plant to Buffalo.
“We have a bargaining history with Bobcat across the country,” said David Wasiura, assistant to the director of United Steelworkers District 4, which is based in Buffalo. “And anytime that we can support jobs on the East Side of Buffalo – good-paying, family-sustaining jobs – we think it’s a win for the area and the community.”
“What this shows is that green jobs are good jobs,” he said. “They’re the manufacturing of the future.”