As part of a tour of businesses inside his district, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens visited Rawlings Sporting Goods' Adirondack Division on Tuesday to learn more about what small businesses need to thrive.
"We want to see what's going on and help bring in new businesses; and those that are here, to get them what they need to prosper," said Owens, D - Plattsburgh, after a morning tour of the Rawlings facility in the village of Dolgeville.
During Owens' visit plant manager Ron VanderGroef talked about how one of the challenges the company is facing is the emerald ash borer.
"It's closing in our resource. It's making it harder," he said, noting about 80 percent of Rawlings' bats are made of white ash. VanderGroef said the company is now using more maple and birch bats to compensate.
"It's something I first learned about when I first ran for Congress three and a half-years ago," said Owens about the problem with the emerald ash borer plaguing trees in New York and other states. "It's an ongoing problem. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked closely to find ways to limit the emerald ash borer."
Owens said one way the USDA is fighting off the insect is by introducing its predators to eliminate the problem. "It's very difficult," he said.
VanderGroef and Patrick Hoffa, production manager, gave Owens a tour of the facility along with Herkimer County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Scarano and Dolgeville Village Trustee and Deputy Mayor Donna Loucks.
Part of the tour included Hoffa demonstrating how a new machine acquired by the company puts an aesthetic, flame treatment on some of the wooden bats. He also showed how the bats are lasered and cut, and other treatments bats can receive. A special "Big Stick" was produced for Owens, bearing his name at the top of the bat.
VanderGroef said the Rawlings plant in Dolgeville opened at the location sometime in the late 1940s. He said the company produces 350,000 bats a year and provides bats to the major and minor leagues, and also sell some bats for retail.
Owens had also planned to visit the Salisbury-Dolgeville Greenway. He later visited the Sunderland Leather Company in Gloversville, where they make Minnetonka Moccasins.
Owens talked about during his visit how he has been fighting in Congress the issue of how China manipulates its currency, which ultimately impacts free trade and results in the loss of American jobs. In July, he addressed how legislation on this issue has yet to be brought to the floor by the current house leadership.
Owens said in a news release on Monday he recently co-wrote a letter signed by a bi-partisan group of 25 members of Congress to urge the United States Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce to protect the intellectual property rights of companies exporting to China. He said Chinese knock-offs of U.S. brands, including Minnetonka Moccasins, limit the U.S. manufacturers' access to the Chinese market and that better enforcement of intellectual property rights could increase demand for U.S. brands and at their domestic suppliers, like Sunderland Leather.