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January 21, 2014

 

Cortland Line targets growth

New owners invest $3M in technology upgrades, better marketing

CortlandJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Line Co. programmer Jeff Stevens labels fly fishing line collecting on skeins in the “tower room” Thursday at the company’s factory on Kellogg Road in Cortland. New owners bought the company in July 2012 and are completing software and hardware upgrades of the machines that control the production process.

By TYRONE L. HEPPARD
Staff Reporter
theppard@cortlandstandardnews.net

Cortland Line Co. on Kellogg Road is one of the county’s oldest businesses and as the fishing accessory manufacturer approaches its 100th anniversary, a long list of investments and improvements are under way.
President Randy Brown and six investors purchased the Cortland Line Co. in July 2012 when the company came dangerously close to shutting its doors for good after defaulting on a $2.8 million loan. Since then, the business has slowly recovered.
In December, the state awarded the company a $150,000 Empire State Development Grant through the Regional Economic Development Council.
Brown recently gave details about how the money is being invested.
Changes are already happening in the mixing room where assorted colors of fishing line are made and Brown said the company will finish eliminating toxic chemicals used in the process, something that began when he took over in July.
“We use very few toxic chemicals and we’re getting rid of all of them,” Brown said. “We’ve cut those by two-thirds since we’ve been here ... and we expect to eliminate them completely.”
Once colors are selected, the lines are coated with a slick substance and dried. The software and hardware of the machines controlling that process, the fly line towers, will be upgraded, in a move that will cut costs and increase output, Brown said.
“We’ll save 30 percent on electricity, they’ll be much more efficient,” Brown said. “We’ll be able to run them faster. We’ll probably increase (production) time by 50 percent, so it’s more efficient that way as well.”
Other projects include updating communications and monitoring systems, expanding marketing efforts and installing new machines and equipment — improvements that have been going on since July and total $3 million.
In 2012 the company had 52 employees. Today, that number is down to 40 but Brown said the company has eliminated unnecessary positions and actually increased the number of people in areas such as customer service and finances, allowing the company to build its customer base and better manage its time and money.
Chief Engineer Steve Toddes has been overseeing most of the changes and is involved with planning the structural improvements made on the factory floor and integrating the software upgrades with newer technologies.
“There’s a lot of technical ... engineering that needs to be done for plant improvements,” Toddes said, “Minutiae that the customer probably doesn’t see but will ultimately build a better product and a higher-quality product in the long run.”
Toddes has been streamlining the manufacturing process by integrating the company’s equipment with its software. The most engineering and the most thought went into that process, he said.
“When technology is very well done, its almost invisible,” he said.
Although the company is grateful for the Empire State Development grant, Brown does have some criticism about how the state addresses the needs of companies seeking its help the most.
During its recovery, the company has received little outside help — the $3 million spent so far is its own money, Brown said, and added that a lack of urgency and dialogue on the part of the state combined with seemingly arbitrary rules continue to threaten struggling businesses in New York.
“The process for getting assistance from the state is cumbersome at best,” Brown said. “We’ve already spent $3 million and we need to spend another $400,000 for the state to kick in $150,000. I think unless they take a much more proactive stance on existing businesses, they’re going to continue to lose them.”
But despite some objections with the state, Brown said he never doubted the company — or the employees for that matter — which is what motivated him to get involved and turn the company around.
“I immediately liked the people,” Brown said “They’re committed (and) very hardworking. If it wasn’t for the high-quality products they made here, (the company) would have died a long time ago. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the people, we wouldn’t have bought in Cortland.”
Brown added that perseverance and resilience are the qualities he is confident will help Cortland Line Co. once again be recognized as the best in the business.
“There’s very little that has not changed here and more changes are coming,” Brown said. “The one thing that all of the ... employees should be extremely proud of is the quality of the products they have made for decades and are making now. We’ve just got to let the rest of the world know our products are the best products in the world. We feel strongly about that.”

 

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