Historic Watervliet Arsenal evolves into a military/civilian cooperative

Gary Balfour and Alan Fuierer have found a good location for their business, Solid Sealing Technolog

Liquid helium leaks can be a problem.

Especially with the temperatures involved hovering near absolute zero.

That’s what business partners Gary Balfour and Alan Fuierer are trying to prevent with their business Solid Sealing Technology.

And they’re doing it at the Watervliet Arsenal, formerly a military-only installation that has changed with the times to incorporate civilian businesses and operations.

“It’s a classic real estate argument,” Balfour said at the company’s facility at the Arsenal. “It’s location, location, location. Logistically, this is a great spot for us to be in.”

The company, started in 2004, has taken advantage of the Arsenal’s ready space for its manufacturing and office operations. Almost everything they’ve needed, the Arsenal has had, they said.

Solid Sealing Technology is one of more than a dozen civilian tenants to sign on at the Arsenal since 1999. That’s when The Arsenal Business & Technology Partnership was created. More than 250 people are now employed at the civilian businesses there.

The partnership began in the wake of a tumultuous decade at the Arsenal, a decade that saw an estimated 3,000 people laid off as the Cold War ended and the need for cannons and other tools of war waned.

Those reductions led to another reduction: in the amount of space needed on site to make weapons. Arsenal officials and local officials wanted to use that space and help the Arsenal, a government operation that must sustain itself and break even.

The partnership helps offset some of the Arsenal’s costs with rent payments called fees. The partnership also helps with infrastructure at the Arsenal. The amount contributed has grown steadily as the years have passed, partnership president Tony Gaetano said.


Now the partnership has gotten approval to develop 65 acres at the site, land that now has several buildings.

As the Arsenal’s work force and output have been reduced, there have been calls to close it. Credited with helping stop that and even expand the operations through private companies were congressional representatives, most notably Michael McNulty of nearby Green Island, who represented the area for 20 years.

McNulty’s commitment to the Arsenal was noted on his return to private life in the Capital Region last February, with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer recalling how McNulty’s first words to him were “Watervliet Arsenal.”

The transition from McNulty to U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, has been “absolutely smooth,” Gaetano said.

“Mike was a constant battler for the Arsenal and Benet Labs and for commercial development of the site,” Gaetano said. “Mike and Sen. Schumer were personally responsible for the new 65 acre development plan.”

An important component of the Arsenal’s support has come from the Army, including former Army Secretary Peter Geren, a George W. Bush appointee, to the current secretary John McHugh, an Obama appointee and a New Yorker well familiar with Watervliet and the Arsenal.

John Snyder, spokesman for the Arsenal, said some people, used to the heavy volume of traffi c in earlier years, have assumed the Arsenal ceased operations.

The reduced traffic, he said, can be attributed to the reduced work force and the reduced number of gates after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. All but one gate was closed to traffi c.

Today, just over 600 workers are supporting the Arsenal’s manufacturing operations, making weapons like mortar barrel systems. In the past 12 months, 90 jobs have been added, Snyder said.

More than 1,300 people are employed on the site as a whole, in both the military and civilian operations.

Helping the Arsenal are those civilian businesses. They fill space, as well as provide assistance. Some dovetail with the military operations.

“I wouldn’t call it a key to our survival, but it certainly assists us in helping spread out our overhead costs and utilize our under utilized space as a revenue generator,” Arsenal chief accounting offi cer Joe Turcotte said.

The site even includes a museum that tells the Arsenal’s history from its beginnings making leather goods for soldiers in 1813 to making canons and other equipment for every war since.

Gaetano counted among the partnership successes the relocation of Vistec Lithography to the Arsenal campus from the United Kingdom.

The company, which helps in the manufacture of semiconductor systems, moved “lock, stock and barrel” (appropriately enough) from Cambridge, England, to the Arsenal, Gaetano said.

The site now includes tenants whose businesses range from homeland security to advanced materials and nanotechnology to biotechnology areas.

Because the site is a military installation, it offers enhanced security. Visitors must make appointments and sign in at the gate. The complex also has its own fire department and police force.

It’s not the kind of site for a retail or broadly professional services business, Gaetano said.

“But,” he said, “if you’re a defense contractor, if you’re a manufacturer, in R&D or a software designer, this is a great place to be.”

Solid Sealing’s Balfour and Fuierer started their company Jan. 4, 2004, at the Arsenal after their old company left the area.

They started with just themselves, then expanded with a full facility set up by October of that year. They took advantage of the ready space, with the 18-foot ceilings they needed and the manufacturing and office space they needed. They also took advantage of federal grants and assistance to help get things going.

The privately held company now has 26 employees making the seals that keep liquid helium and other materials from leaking and hightech machinery working.

Categories: Business

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