Glass Industry

Corning Glass Business to Move from Big Flats to Mexico

Corning Inc. said Wednesday it will move its laboratory glassware business from its Big Flats plant to Monterrey, Mexico.

The move will allow the Twin Tiers' largest employer to concentrate at Big Flats on more lucrative drug discovery products, said Mark A. Beck, vice president and general manager of Corning Life Sciences.

Beck declined to say how many employees will be affected by the change, which will occur over two years.

Mike Walker, president of Local 1000 of the United Steelworkers of America, said about 50 of the 70 union employees at Big Flats will be affected.

Beck said many of those whose jobs are being shifted to Mexico will be eligible to apply for jobs in other Corning Inc. facilities in the region. Others will be able to retire, Corning spokesman Dan Collins said.

Walker agreed that most of those affected won't be out of a job.

"We won't see a big impact as far as people hitting the streets," Walker said. "But it's a very significant thing to them and their families and their work lives whether they have another job or not."

Walker attributed the loss of the laboratory glass business to the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"This is NAFTA at work," he said.

Walker said the union will look into federal education and training benefits for any workers displaced by the company's decision.

About half those at the Big Flats plant are involved in glass fabrication or glass procurement.

The other half work on the production of microplates for Corning's growing Epic drug discovery system.

Beck said the procurement business will be kept in the Corning area at a location yet to be determined.

Manufacturing capacity for the microplates used in the Epic system, which sell for about $300 each, has tripled at Big Flats since January, Beck said.

"We feel compelled Epic should stay here in the valley," Beck said. "We're committed to keeping Epic close to Sullivan Park."

Since unveiling the Epic system in September 2006, Corning Inc. has sold 11 systems to pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies and academic institutions, including Johns Hopkins University.

The sales have occurred in North America, Europe, the United Kingdom and Japan.

The Epic system sells for about $400,000, Beck said.

"Our confidence in the future of Epic technology has never been greater than it is today," Beck said. "I don't want to imply that everything is perfect or rosy. Customers are demanding a higher burden of proof than anticipated."

Demand for laboratory glassware is declining by 1 percent to 2 percent each year, Beck said, because of the popularity of plastics.

But the Epic system has the potential to become profitable and to generate annual revenue of $100 million to $200 million by the end of the decade, he said.

Corning's Life Sciences business had $287 million in revenue in 2006.

Beck said growth of the Epic product line also has the potential to replace any jobs lost at Big Flats in glass fabrication.

"This is the beginning of a whole new era for the Big Flats plant," Beck said.

Walker called the Epic system "more of a high-tech product" and said it is "not necessarily a great fit for some of our folks already there."

Source: Press Connects