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Long Story Short: Keep your hat on


Illustration by JP Thimot


New Era enters a new era 

More than 200 area workers will lose their jobs in March when New Era Cap closes its manufacturing plant in Derby, New York. The company is famous for its baseball caps, which are so trendy—especially among the hip hop crowd—that leaving the logo sticker on the brim, so people can see it’s a New Era cap, is common practice.


Everyone, especially residents of Derby, has been in shock after news of the closing spread. The company produces up to 4.5 million caps a year, including those worn by Major League Baseball players. Those caps will now be made in Miami at a New Era apparel screenprinting plant. That satisfies the deal with the MLB, which requires the hats they use be made in the US. New Era will save money by consolidating the factories. Another sixty million hats are made overseas annually, in countries like China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Haiti, where wages are low.


New Era is essentially evolving from a manufacturing company, to a “brand,” with over 500 licensed products that are outsourced to whatever factory can produce the goods quickest and cheapest. Company leaders spend a great deal of energy strategizing to keep the brand visible, which often means getting the hats on the heads of celebrities.


Blame Spike Lee

New Era’s trend toward branding started in 1996, when movie director Spike Lee contacted the company with a request for a custom-made red NY Yankee hat. When Lee wore the hat to the World Series that year, the demand for licensed New Era products was born, and the iconic hat became high fashion. That was the moment the Derby plant’s fate was sealed; it took another twenty-two years for the full impact.


Why should an American company make things that can be made cheaper elsewhere, so the company can spend more resources on promoting its brand? That’s the new era this company has entered. Case in point: in 2016, Ralph Wilson Stadium on Orchard Park became New Era Stadium.


Sixty million New Era caps are made overseas annually. Four million are made here in Derby. Just after Era put its name on the Bill’s stadium, the company announced that its Derby plant would make a new line of NFL caps. "This announcement comes at a time when I can say with the utmost confidence, New Era is 100 percent committed to Western New York and Buffalo," said New Era president & CEO Chris Koch at the time. "We're in over eighty countries now, with offices all around the world, including six in the US, but Buffalo is our home and it continues to be our home," he added. Two years later, that commitment seems to have dropped to zero percent.


The company’s downtown Buffalo headquarters, which employs 337 people, is expected to remain open.



Henry II

Who knew?


After sitting deserted and decaying for decades, the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane was put under the auspices of the Richardson Center Corporation, and InnVest Lodging Services took a giant leap of faith and built Hotel Henry. It’s a costly place to develop and operate, with all those National Historic Landmark restrictions, huge fuel-inefficient hallways, and twenty-foot ceilings. As it turns out, Hotel Henry has been a profitable success and a must-see stop for art and architecture-loving visitors to the city. It’s been doing bang-up business with weddings and other social and business events, while the restaurant is a big hit with local diners. It’s earned the top preservation award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been named one of Time magazine’s “World’s Greatest Places.”


Henry: the second phase

Now the hotel has announced that it plans to expand into two more of the historic H.H. Richardson-designed buildings over the next two or three years. This offers still more proof that it’s possible to preserve historic architecture—and profit. But it takes courage and imagination. Let’s hope this serves as an inspiration for the tear-down-and-build developers in town.



The cost of education

The first two lines of a recent Buffalo News article about school spending reveals a common misunderstanding. “What Buffalo school spends the most per student?” reporter Jay Rey asks rhetorically, “City Honors, right?”


But seriously, folks

Rey probably knows why that assumption is absurd, but posing the question reflects a widespread public misperception about the link between spending and student success. Now that the state is requiring districts to publish school-by-school data, more fuel will be added to public discontentment fires.


The fact that City Honors spends the least of all Buffalo schools shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Students there are intellectually, and often socioeconomically, advantaged. As a result, the school functions exceptionally well with fewer teachers per pupil, producing the highest (or near-highest) graduation rates in the region.


The News article does a decent job of explaining that schools with higher needs—low-income students, higher levels of special-education students, and more English-as-second-language students—cost more to run successfully.


Learn from system that works!

I’ve written before about the schools in Finland, which kick the academic butts of all other nations, leaving the US far in the rear-view mirror. Finnish schools provide important resources and services for all students, including hot meals, psychological counseling, and health and dental services. There are additional funds for immigrant students, low-income students, students in single parent families, and students with unemployed or undereducated parents. High-need students trigger the hiring of additional support staff.  


In other words, the most successful school system in the world doesn’t fund schools equally; it funds them according to research-driven understanding of student needs. And it provides many services indirectly related to educational success. Oh yeah, and these begin at birth. The population of Finland is about twice that of all Western New York, with considerable groups of Russians, Estonians, and Somalis. We could emulate their success if we managed education regionally, rather than in tiny fiefdoms we call districts. We could learn a lot from Finland, but politics and fear will likely prevent those lessons from being implemented here.


It’s a start

There’s a bit of good news for Buffalo school students, now that the Board of Education and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority have agreed on the first new contract for bus service in thirty years. The new contract expands service hours and cuts routing restrictions that hampered student bus use. These restrictions were put in place when there was a viable mall downtown, which became an after-school hangout for students. The solution was to restrict the hours students could ride the buses—despite the fact that the district paid the same for student riders as other unlimited access customers. With the new agreement, students can plan their own routes to and from school, making it easier for many to arrive safely, be on time, and be able to stay after school for added help or extracurricular activities. And the district pays less for the service than in the past. The hope is that the new system will increase student attendance. There’s something to be said for fairness too.  



The bitter taste of victory

“The election is over. The voters chose me.” How many times have we heard those words? This time, though, was different.


The petulant leader lashed out again and again. “I am the CEO,” he added metaphorically. “So why is my management being equated with someone who doesn’t have the management authority?” He continued: “How about the things we are doing right? How about lifting those things up?” Then he claimed that others get the credit for his work. “I wonder why that is,” he mused rhetorically. 


Was this Donald Trump on another one of his freestyle rants?


Nope, it was Mayor Byron Brown, railing against his adversaries, specifically Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Comptroller Mark Schroeder, who has been challenging city spending practices. Brown complained that County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Congressman Brian Higgins, and Ryan get credit for his accomplishments. And he thinks Schroeder is bitter because he lost the 2017 Democratic primary. Ryan and Schroeder have concerns about spending, concerns that Brown considers unfair. One involves a pig roast. If that’s got your curiosity, you can read about the specific issues here. Brown doesn’t usually lose his cool. It makes you wonder: why now? Just a bad day? Or something deeper?


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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