Orbic: The Future of American Manufacturing?

A prototype of the 5G E-bike, an upcoming Orbic product that the company feels will revolutionize services such as DoorDash when it is available.
Long Island Press Photo

Long Island has become accustomed, over the past few decades, to losing jobs, particularly manufacturing jobs, as the region’s once robust industry – defense – collapsed after the Cold War ended in 1991.

So a lot of heads picked up recently when Hauppauge-based Orbic Electronics Manufacturing LLC announced it was transferring about 1,000 manufacturing jobs over the next five years, from China to Long Island. It will continue to utilize engineers in the Far East for research purposes.

In May, the 10-year-old company, which supplies cell phones, laptops, mobile hotspots and other telecommunications devices, won an eye-popping $10 million in New York State tax credits, based on the 1,000 jobs it said it will create.

Jon Kaiman, Orbic’s executive vice president and general counsel, who most recently served as a Deputy Suffolk County executive under Steve Bellone and was also North Hempstead Town Supervisor from 2004 to 2013, is soft-spoken and exudes a casual air. But he becomes animated when he talks about the jobs the company is transferring to Long Island.

“How is it possible and why now?” Kaiman asks, gesticulating in his small office in the company’s building in the Hauppauge Industrial Complex. “It’s never been possible. Why hasn’t Apple done this?”

“It is the right time,” said Kaiman, who joined the company only this past March. “We are seizing the moment. We need to be responsible not only for ourselves, but our survival.”

Privately held Orbic has not been on Long Island’s front burner any time in the past.

The low-key company is owned by Mike Narula, who is its chief executive, and his wife, Ashima. Orbic did not wait for a state tax break – the largest in New York State’s latest round of funding by the Regional Economic Development councils – to start planning to bring manufacturing jobs to the Island.

The planning, by Mike Narula, actually began two years ago, during the Covid pandemic, when everything from cars to computers was impossibly hard to obtain.

“We didn’t know about the $10 million then,” said Kaiman. “It wasn’t part of the equation. It all started when (the problems) with the U.S.’s supply chain became obvious during Covid. You couldn’t buy a computer or a car.”

So, the company decided to bring manufacturing jobs here and reduce its reliance on the international supply chain.

“We assembled a team to implement this,” Kaiman said.

Orbic later applied to Empire State Development, the state agency that handles the awards. A few months earlier, the company had received $2 million in local tax breaks, over 20 years, to refurbish its main Hauppauge building.

Economists who have followed Long Island companies for years were surprised by Orbic’s news but, having seen the declines in jobs over the years, said they would wait before opening the Champagne bottles.

“Bringing any jobs to Long Island is unusual,” said Martin Cantor, director of the Center for Socio-Economic Policy, a think tank in Melville. “But it remains to be seen what happens. Long Island is not a great haven for manufacturing. How are you going to afford a workforce when people can’t afford to live here? I’d have to see this first.”

Long Island, like many other parts of the country, is facing higher and higher prices for homes. Utility and labor costs here are among the highest in the country.

Hiring at Orbic to begin in the next year. Kaiman said that salaries will be “competitive” and that those hired will be able to live on Long Island.

The state can claw back funds if companies fail to hire as many people as promised.

In a statement to the Press, Narula said, “We’ve committed to Gov. Hochul and to Suffolk County that we will not only create the 1,000 jobs promised, but will keep going from there as we develop additional American-manufactured product lines requiring even more jobs after that.”

Regional officials are putting the best face on things.

Orbic’s plan “highlights the area’s skilled workforce, business-friendly environment and strategic location and will strengthen the Long Island’s position as a hub for advanced manufacturing and technology, Linda Armyn and John Nader, who lead the Long Island Regional Economic Development Councils, said in a statement.

Orbic’s hiring will be local, Kaiman said, drawing from Long Island and New York city colleges, universities and trade schools. The state and county tax breaks will help Orbic open the first of what it says will be four factories in Suffolk County. Work is to begin this year on retrofitting 60,000 square feet on its facility at 555 Wireless Blvd. in the Hauppauge Industrial Complex.

The company, with about $100 million in annual sales, currently has only about 60 employees.  Over the next five years, if things go according to plan, the company will be a vastly different enterprise.

Could Orbic hire more than 1,000 people? “Our goal is to hire a significant number of people,” Kaiman said. “We wouldn’t want to put a number on it right now. But we expect by the first quarter of next year to be up and running with our hiring plans.”

It is planning on instituting advanced, high-tech manufacturing in what it calls a “Buy America” environment. Not only will its products be made here, but it will buy from U.S. companies as well.

“The whole concept of ‘Buy America’ will help us fulfill our own needs,” Kaiman said.