By Allison Collins
SIDNEY – Under a pair of custom-made wooden arches measuring an appropriate 125 feet long, members of the Van Cott family, owners and operators of Unalam since its inception in 1892, gathered alongside employees, retirees, longtime corporate partners and suppliers, local elected officials and friends to celebrate the business’s 125th anniversary at its Sidney manufacturing facility Wednesday, Oct. 4.
In 1892 J.W. Van Cott, great-great grandfather to current president of Unalam Craig Van Cott, began selling lumber in Unadilla. In 1906 the family made the first Unadilla Silo, beginning a product line that would serve farmers until the 1980s. Unadilla Silo Company experimented with glue laminate (glulam) in the late ‘20s, using adhesive manufactured in nearby Bainbridge. By 1963, the Unalam division had expanded into the Sidney facility where glulam production continues today.
Executive Vice President and member of Unalam’s sixth-generation management team Zoë van der Meulen credited the company’s team of roughly 45 full-time employees with ensuring its staying power.
“Part of why we’ve been around for 125 years is because of the amazing team of people,” said van der Meulen, adding, “We all feel very proud.”
Employees were given commemorative 125th anniversary sweatshirts, a $125 bonus and an hourly pay raise of $1.25, effective by the end of this month.
“This is really about the team,” continued van der Meulen, “and having a great team all these years has set us apart not only in the area, but from our competitors.”
New York State Senator James Seward, Assemblyman Clifford Crouch and a representative from the office of Congressman John Faso were on-hand to share in the celebration and underscore the economic value of a family-owned business such as Unalam continuing operations in small, rural towns. All three men presented Unalam with certificates of citation recognizing the business for its remarkable 125-year tenure.
Mayor of Sidney Andy Matviak re-affirmed the economic and employment opportunities Unalam, as a large, longtime manufacturer in the tri-towns, has continually brought to the area.
“Very few communities have a manufacturing base like Sidney and Unalam is a big part of that,” said Matviak. He added, “They employ a lot of people in Sidney and the tri-towns and they’ve been here through good times and bad. We really appreciate that.”
42-year Unalam employee Phil Holowacz, now retired, said it was the familial atmosphere extending through all aspects of the company that made working for Unalam throughout four-plus decades so pleasant.
“I enjoyed what I was doing and the people I was working with,” said Holowacz, former vice president of sales. Holowacz, who retired in 2013, added, “It was a family. Everything was good and the people I worked for made it comfortable.”
For current quality control specialist Brett Johnson of Unadilla, a 16-year Unalam employee, the ever-changing nature of the work itself keeps things fascinating and workers engaged.
“There’re always interesting projects (and) something different,” said Johnson, “from big arches to small residence jobs.”
President Craig Van Cott said Unalam marking the 125-year milestone was “amazing.” Like others, he emphasized the role family and creating a familial atmosphere played in bolstering the business through parts of three centuries.
“It was instilled in me from a very young age to treat the business as part of the family,” said Van Cott, adding, “I knew I was destined to do this.”
The commemorative presentation was followed by a luncheon with cake, served on one of 44 125-foot arches Unalam is currently manufacturing for a water park project in Monticello, N.Y.