Michael Henning is a fourth-generation worker at Belmont Metals in East New York.
Michael Henning is a fourth-generation worker at Belmont Metals in East New York.


Family pride is tied close to locality at Belmont Metals, according to Michael Henning, the company’s vice president of marketing. The company has been on the same plot of East New York land since it was founded in 1896, at which point it was his great-great grandfather’s backyard.

Michael points to a black-and-white photograph of his great-grandfather on the conference room’s wall. “It was all farmland then,” he said, a sharp contrast to the inner-city feel of the neighborhood today.

Belmont Metals is one of the East New York Industrial Business Zone’s (IBZ) most prized manufacturing companies. The company specializes in custom-designed alloys and metals for markets such as jewelry designers and musical instrument makers. Employer of seventy, Belmont’s business has remained steady in an era in which many manufacturers struggle. Workers on the manufacturing floor make about $19 an hour, more than double minimum wage.  

Local stakeholders want employers who provide middle-class careers, such as Belmont, to stay in the neighborhood—and the IBZ, which currently provides 700 jobs, seems that it would be fertile ground for those businesses to prosper. But Belmont illustrates a problem: none of its employees live in East New York.

Ninety-five percent of Belmont’s employees commute by car according to William Wilkins, the director of economic development for the Local Development Corporation of East New York. Wilkins is leading a study of the IBZ commissioned by the city as part of the rezoning process.

Most other companies in the IBZ have a few more hires from the neighborhood, according to Wilkins, though not dramatically more. According to their study thus far, about fifteen percent of the IBZ’s employees live within a two-mile radius of the zone. He and others are working to create a plan that would boost local hires. “The bottom line is that the companies like to hire locally,” Wilkins said, “There is a greater propensity that you’ll make it to work.”

It would be nice to have employees from the neighborhood, said Richard Henning Jr., Michael’s brother and the company’s manager of operations. But, “to be perfectly honest [hiring from the neighborhood] just doesn’t come up. We don’t see a lot of applicants,” The plant hired about ten manufacturing floor workers in the past year he said. “We tend to hire off referral, so a guy has a cousin or a friend that he wants to bring in. They don’t tend to live particularly locally,” he said.  

One demand that neighborhood advocates are making is to have a workforce development center in East New York. This would provide local residents with both job training and a heads-up when local employers are hiring—the later would be more helpful in their case, Richard Jr. said. Most training here is done on-site.

Belmont has been in the $20million – $50million revenue category for the past fifteen years. One of the reasons that it continues to do well is in a sense because it fits with the new aesthetic of Brooklyn products: local, boutique, and niche. But the fact that the manufacturer fits with its borough’s 21st century brand is coincidental; almost none of Belmont’s customers are here, its owners live elsewhere (Long Island), and its product model has been the same for decades.

Though none of his employees are from East New York, Richard Jr. said that up to ninety-five percent of the workers are from Brooklyn and Queens.

They’ve had plenty of opportunities to move out of the five boroughs, where land is cheaper. But a few factors are keeping them tied to the location: family lore, loyalty to current workers from the five boroughs, and incentives given by the New York State government. Because of a $4,000 grant from the Empire Development Fund they were able to go to a trade show in Germany last year. And another state grant enabled them to translate their website into four languages.

“Manufacturing built this city,” Michael said, “It seems like we’re getting some better support from the city and from the state to keep us here.”