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AUBURN — What’s the biggest challenge for a plastics manufacturing company that ships products as far as Ireland and Saudi Arabia? For Bo-Mer Plastics in Auburn, it’s finding young laborers.

Since 1946, Bo-Mer has produced custom-made plastic and metal parts for all sorts of equipment. Every year since the company was bought by Tom Herbert in 2001, the company has seen growth. Nonetheless, convincing young people that manufacturing doesn’t have to be dull, monotonous work is a hurdle Bo-Mer hopes to overcome.

“Younger generations aren’t knowledgeable of what manufacturing is today,” said Herbert, who’s been with Bo-Mer for over three decades.

Between CNC technology and computer driven processes, Herbert insists that a career in plastic manufacturing is far from being dark and gloomy. Slowly but surely, Bo-Mer is reaching out to more and more young people in the workforce.

One way Bo-Mer is tackling its hitch is by participating in the New York State Pathways in Technology program, or “P-Tech.” A rigorous and relevant program, P-Tech allows students in grades 9 to 14 to get a workplace sense of what careers in science, technology, engineering and math entail. Upon program completion, students are rewarded an Associate of Applied Science degree in a high-tech field. Bo-Mer partners with Auburn High School by sending company representatives to work with students.

P-Tech participation also helps with branding. Herbert, an Auburn native, said the program helps get the company’s name in conversation.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s in Auburn … there’s still businesses here that I’m not aware of” he said. “I never knew Bo-Mer existed when I was growing up.”

It wasn’t until he graduated from Morrisville State College that Herbert discovered Bo-Mer. Like most recently-graduated college students, he shipped out resumes hoping to get a bite. Bo-Mer bit.

When he was first hired, Herbert told the then-owner that he’d only be sticking around for a couple of years. He had plans to finish his schooling in Washington.

“He said ‘We’ll see,’ and 37 years later, I’m still sitting here,” Herbert said chuckling.

When he eventually bought the company with the support of its majority stockholder, Herbert said it wasn’t done for personal gain.

“Buying the company was pretty important to me, mainly to try and keep the jobs here. We’re like a big family.”

In fact, many of Bo-Mer’s employees are related to each other. There are so many relationships that Herbert didn’t know about half of them.

Despite Herbert’s once short-term plans with Bo-Mer, he’s happy he stayed.

“Coming back here and staying here … it was awesome. It’s a great place to raise your kids,” he said.

There is one thing Herbert’s not too fond of in Auburn though: the weather. The wind and the snow that Auburnians are more than familiar with are more contributing repellants when it comes to finding young work prospects. Herbert said it’s hard to compete with booming southern states that have advantages like lower taxes and warmer weather.

Unless you work in the medical field, chances are you might not recognize Bo-Mer’s products. The company’s core business comes from making parts for medical equipment like MRI machines, but that doesn’t mean Bo-Mer doesn’t work on non-medical projects. Products like self-watering plant holders, taxi cab signs and engine-powered kayaks are just a few others that the company has worked on.

Although Bo-Mer has seen growth every year since Herbert’s purchase, it hasn’t come easily.

To keep up with an ever-changing industry, Bo-Mer has automated just about everything that can be automated. Sheet metal fabrication and rotational molding were added to the company’s services. New equipment is constantly brought in, too.

Herbert said that Bo-Mer’s manufacturing machines, which are basically “large Easy-Bake Ovens,” get updated every three to five years. With new equipment continuously rotating through Bo-Mer’s facility, machine operators are constantly being taught new things. That’s why Bo-Mer isn’t just looking for young workers, but young workers who are willing to adapt to the industry’s demands.

“You don’t need to know anything about plastics, we’ll teach you,” Herbert said. “You just have to be willing to learn.”

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or dan.orzechowski@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan.

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