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County Officials Tour Local Essential Manufacturer

Down To ‘Brass’ Tax

Classic Brass founder and president, Christopher Creighton, shows interim County Executive PJ Wendel, left, a production process at the Busti plant during a visit by county officials Thursday afternoon. P-J photos by Cameron Hurst

BUSTI — On March 19, Christopher Creighton had no idea what the immediate future of Classic Brass would be in the wake of the statewide manufacturing shutdown by New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a backlog that would carry us into May,” said Creighton, who founded the Busti-based handcrafted, traditional brass hardware manufacturer in 1996. “A couple of customers, I had sent some notes out to say that manufacturing in New York state was a question mark as of that day.”

At the time, Creighton said, “No one knew what essential or non-essential or waivers were at the time, so we went out, Googled some information and found Empire State Development. Someone had the forethought to get the mechanism in place.”

Creighton and his associates submitted their application that Friday at 4:30. By that Saturday at 6:30, the state allowed them to continue production, “because we’re considered an essential supply-chain partner to the construction industry,” Creighton said.

“We opened Monday and had a plan to split shifts in the factory to reduce the number,” he said. “Everybody was very cooperative with that. We spread everyone out and said, ‘You have your own 600 to 1,000 square feet.’ We’ve been very lucky.”

A Classic Brass employee shows off his handiwork to Deputy County Executive for Economic Development and CCIDA CEO Mark Geise and interim County Executive PJ Wendel during a visit to the Busti plant Thursday afternoon.

“Then, the business took off,” Creighton added. “We’ve been nothing but busy since.”

Creighton explained his company’s recent line of success to interim Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel and representatives from the county’s Industrial Development Agency — deputy county executive for economic development and CCIDA Chief Executive Officer Mark Geise, Chief Financial Officer Rich Dixon, and Linda Burns, business development manager — during a tour of the Stoneman Circle plant Thursday afternoon.

Also in attendance was David Pihl, senior vice president for DFT Communications, which recently completed a fiber cable installation project that is providing high-speed internet access to more than a dozen businesses in and around Stoneman Industrial Park in the town of Busti. DFT, the CCIDA and the county financed the $100,000 project.

The project has aided Creighton’s business greatly in recent weeks.

“The broadband has really helped us in that we have dealers all over the USA. We’re sending files, drawing, prints and other things and I was just talking to my one guy and it’s lightning,” Creighton said. “It makes all the difference in the world. There’s not the time for it otherwise and certainly time is money.”

“DFT was proud that they could bring high-speed fiber-optic service to the businesses at Stoneman Industrial Park and the surrounding area,” Pihl said in a release. “DFT had been in discussions with the CCIDA for many years regarding the lack of service at the park and, working together along with the county and CCIDA, were finally able to come together to make the project happen.”

“I’m thrilled that the county could collaborate with the CCIDA and DFT to provide this critical infrastructure to Classic Brass and others, as assistance to businesses, whether it is in the form of incentives or infrastructure,” Wendel said. “It’s critical to the well-being of our local economy.”

The project involved extending fiber optic cable to the business park from Route 394 up Hunt Road so businesses located within the park and along the route to the park could have critical broadband internet service to help their business operations. The area is home to 14 businesses, several of which communicated previous difficulties to the county and IDA.

“Where it’s really going to be a factor is we had looked about a year and a half ago into investing in an enterprise resource planning system that is cloud-based,” Creighton said. “That infrastructure is needed to make that happen. We knew the fiber optic was coming, but it was one more reason to jump onto cloud-based. It was a concern before with supporting it and I just can’t deal with that. The up-time is there now and the performance of it is real.”

As for the company’s recent performance, Creighton said one dealer in Houston described the industry in one word: slammed.

“We’re up 20% since (the spring),” he explained. “Some of that’s driven by a couple of things: our customers are going into houses between $2 million and $100 million dollar houses that were planned one to five years ago. So, these are people that are making money in the market and they’re cash buyers and them finishing their houses wasn’t a factor. They were going to get it done.”

And projects are continuing, he said.

“Architects and interior designers are as busy as they’ve ever been right now for future projects,” said Creighton, whose business employs upward of 40 employees. “There’s a lot of confidence out there.”

He added, “I’m in a lucky little niche. We’ve tried to create a niche and we’ve created a niche — high-end, flexible premier brass works. We’re selling in the top 10%.”

And now the infrastructure provided by the collaboration makes the company’s future trajectory exciting, Creighton said.

“We’re celebrating our 25th-anniversary last year,” he said. “We have over $150 million dollars in sales over the last 25 years. Our marketing budget, advertising and promotions: we’ve spent $10,000 dollars. Nothing. We know we wanted to do things and now we can.”

And while the company’s function in producing material on a job-to-job basis provides some uncertainty, its current market gives Creighton hope for the immediate future and beyond.

“We’re 100% job shop here,” he said. “I have no idea what we’re making in the second half of November right now. But the orders are filling in. This month, we’re running 25% over last year’s average. These last three weeks have just been incredible. Every day we think it would be a one-day trend. It’s 100% over, 90% over on some daily averages. It’s just incredible.”

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