New York State Exposed: Sold in NY...but is it made in NY?

Posted at: 02/14/2014 8:00 AM
Updated at: 02/17/2014 7:01 PM
By: Pat Taney

They are located all over the state and you support them in a big way. Even if you don’t have a child in a SUNY school, you’re helping the SUNY system.

Nearly $1 billion of your tax money funds the State University of New York. The campuses do support local communities where they're located, but local companies say the colleges are missing the mark in a big way.

A vast majority of items sold at state campus bookstores are not made anywhere in New York State. In fact, News10NBC found those bookstores are supporting companies thousands of miles away, while local businesses are fighting to get in the door.

News10NBC took our undercover camera to two large SUNY campuses based in the Rochester area. Our mission was to find State University of New York items, made in New York, in their bookstores. It was very difficult. We searched through dozens of racks, several store shelves and we're not just talking about clothing, but stuffed animals, key chains and bags. Many were made in countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador and Pakistan and nearly all, distributed by companies not based anywhere near New York.

Our research of many other SUNY campus bookstores finds a similar pattern statewide. In fact, one of the biggest suppliers to all SUNY bookstores, the Champion brand, was once based in Rochester. It shut down in the early 1980’s and moved down south, taking all the jobs with them.

At SUNY Brockport, a ton of other name brands too. Shirts made by Jerzees, Jansport.  Caps made by a company called Legacy. None of them are based in New York State. In fact, we're told just one product line sold here, made by U-Trau, is made in the USA. But that company is based in Denver.

At SUNY Geneseo, there were a few hats on sale by New Era Cap, which is based in buffalo and some clothing by MV sports, based on long island. We checked and those products were also manufactured overseas. 

We then came to Emerson Street Clothing, based in Rochester. It is owned by native Jed Hanna. They sell college apparel to several universities. One of their hottest selling items is a nightshirt made in the USA.

Jed Hanna said, “Everything is knit cut dyed domestically and printed in Rochester. You will not find these presently in any SUNY bookstore.” 

One big reason is because the SUNY schools, most of them, are run by three major college bookstore companies. Those companies are Barnes and Noble College, Follett and Nebraska Book. None are based in New York, but they make the decisions on what makes it inside SUNY college stores.

Hanna said, “We just aren't a provider to any of those companies. It is tough we have not had a whole lot of success.”

But Hanna will continue to try and it appears lawmakers may try to help.

New York Senator Ted O’Brien said, “I can tell you I am very interested in looking into this.”

News10NBC was the first to tell state senator Ted O’Brien about this issue.

O'Brien said, “It’s critically important particularly for publicly funded entities like SUNY that we do everything we can to purchase a product that's manufactured locally.>

SUNY schools claim it is all basic economics. They sell items they get at the lowest bids to make them affordable to students and to sell more to make profit. These bookstores raise money for campus-wide operations. The more money they make, the less money they will need to take from the state.

But many students aren't buying that claim nor anything in these stores. Items here they say aren't cheap.

Kevin Murdock, SUNY Brockport, said, “I would say $60 for sweatshirt, $30 for t-shirt.”

Kerry Hosford, SUNY Geneseo, said, “I don't really go to bookstore because it's more expensive.” 

Instead, they're taking their money to off campus stores. What do the colleges think about all this?

SUNY Brockport says they're committed to ensuring products sold in our stores are manufactured ethically, using fair labor practices, that is both good for business and the right thing to do. SUNY Geneseo declined to comment.

News10NBC did find SUNY schools have a good track record when it comes to supporting their communities. In many other ways, they hire local contractors for construction jobs, buy foods from local vendors and provide a huge financial boost for the state.

In fact, according to the most recent report by the Rockefeller Institute, SUNY's economic impact in New York was $20 billion in 2009. But many say this is one area where there's a big need and room for improvement.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson said, “SUNY, being an agent of the state, whenever possible we should be buying quality products from manufacturers and from producers from the U.S. and New York State if possible.”

SUNY schools say it's very tough to find products from U.S manufacturers, especially clothing. Just check the tags at your local mall. A majority of those factories went overseas years ago. But even so, local companies say there's another way SUNY could be supporting our community and creating more jobs.

It has to do with how and where logos on clothing items are printed.