Hidden Newburgh: Duct Dynasty
Newburgh is an interesting place. Discovering her past manufacturing and business history as well as the many present day business stories is like going on a buried treasure hunt.
You can drive down different streets past magnificent, historic commercial real estate, within a stone’s throw of the Newburgh Waterfront, and never know precisely what kinds of businesses and workers and makers may be busily creating behind those brick facades, as often times there are no signs indicating what sort of businesses are hidden there.
This is a first in a series of stories about businesses you might not know exist in Newburgh. Stories about “hidden Newburgh.”
These businesses represent varied vocations and the people engaged in those vocations pursuing the work they love.
In olden days, women and men found work, wages and dignity in the many manufacturing companies like Sweet Orr, the famous blue jean and denim company, that was a major part of Newburgh’s industrial history making “pantaloons, coats, outing shirts, overalls, and workingmen’s garments generally.” *
They lived in the hundreds of Newburgh row houses and brick buildings that still grace the city, block after block.
And worked within walking distance at the factories and manufacturing plants that began to spring up in the mid 1800’s, spurred on by city elders who embraced Alexander Hamilton’s vision of creating a nation state independent of foreign nations for “military and other essential supplies,” building steam engine companies, fabric manufacturing companies, paper box companies and many other and varied manufacturing concerns.
And Newburgh hummed happily along until the latter part of the twentieth century when manufacturing fled the country for other shores.
Today, there is a renaissance of makers working in and coming to Newburgh.
People who are often creative in one way or another, working with their hands in either the arts or in crafts in cottage industries; others are in small, independent businesses that have survived as makers in an increasingly service-industry economy.
Our story on a water purification business (for sale) in Newburgh is one such example.
And we recently visited another one of these business to business makers.
Dan Harden who owns Harden Sheet Metal at 26 Liberty Street in Newburgh is engaged in the making of something not yet widely outsourced: duct work for the immense HVAC systems which heat and cool some of the larger businesses we all frequent, such as a medical centers and schools.
Dan is a lot like the other business owners we have interviewed in Newburgh: fiercely independent, proud to work with his hands, eager to grow his business, but not by too much.
Like others, he places a priority on a life-work balance that allows him to enjoy his work, but leaves him time for weekends with his family.
And he takes real pride in the type of work he does:
“We are one of the only guys on a given job who take raw material which we fabricate to specifications (Dan draws up a CAD shop drawing which is then engineer-approved) bring that onsite, and install it.
“In terms of construction, if you think about a plumber or an electrician, they don’t make from raw materials that which they install. We do!
“We go out in the field and sometimes have to shoe horn in the entire system, requiring modifications that we call back to the shop, which then recuts, and delivers back to the field.
As Dan explains, duct work is a commodity product, “you won’t find it being imported; it’s one of those businesses that has resisted offshoring.”
Dan Harden has a union shop of four to five guys working for him at a time, at the most 16. The workers train at a union hall in Brewster, New York under a four year apprenticeship program.
He has recently completed jobs at the Westchester County Airport and the Time Warner Data Center in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
*from Newburgh Her Institutions, Industries, and Leading Citizens