DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
By Brian: Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau
Freshman Republican Rep. Chris Collins has a plum assignment that he intends to use to call public attention to what he says is the 2010 health care reform law’s harmful impact on small businesses.
He’s been appointed chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology.
“I intend to spend a lot of time delving into the minutiae of Obamacare and other issues, hopefully bringing forth some common-sense solutions that are not political in nature but can help small business grow,” Collins said in an interview.
This is a key year for implementation of the health care law, with a 2.3 percent excise tax taking effect on sales of medical devices by manufacturers.
Welch Allyn of Skaneateles Falls listed the tax as one reason it plans to lay off 10 percent of its worldwide workforce as part of a three-year restructuring plan.
Also helping finance the health care reforms is a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income for individuals earning more than $250,000 and joint filers with incomes above $450,000.
Collins, a 62-year-old former Erie County executive from Clarence who owns numerous small businesses, harshly criticized the health care law during his campaign to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul in the redrawn 27th Congressional District.
The district covers a large expanse of rural area between Rochester and Buffalo as well as suburban towns outside both cities.
Collins also pledged to make agricultural issues a top priority and has secured a seat on the House Agriculture Committee.
The last Congress did not approve a new five-year farm bill, so the policies in the last farm bill have been temporarily renewed through the end of September.
That means Collins will be in a position to weigh in on New York agricultural issues along with two other New Yorkers on the panel, Republican Rep. Chris Gibson and freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney, both from the Hudson Valley.
Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is a member of the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. Senate.
Collins, a longtime resident of the Buffalo area, moved there at age 29 to be close to family members who had moved to the Rochester area for one of his father’s job transfers.
His father worked as an executive for General Electric and the family moved every few years.
Collins was born in Schenectady, but also grew up in New York City and Glens Falls. He attended high school
in Hendersonville, N.C., finishing his senior year there even after his family moved to Durham, N.H., halfway through the school year. Collins stayed in North Carolina for college, graduating from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
After college, he went to work for Westinghouse as a traveling sales engineer based in Birmingham, Ala. He went to school at night, earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Westinghouse eventually offered Collins a factory management position. He chose to work in Buffalo because his parents and siblings had by then relocated yet again and were living in the Pittsford area.
Collins’ father is deceased. His mother has lived in the Rochester area for 44 years and currently lives in Brighton. He also has four younger sisters and 13 nieces and nephews who live in the Rochester area.
Three years after Collins began working at the Westinghouse factory in Buffalo, the company offered to sell it to four of the executives working there. Collins was one of them.
At age 32, he became chief executive and part owner of Nuttall Gear Corp. He sold the business 14 years later, in 1997.
In 1998 Collins undertook his first political campaign, unsuccessfully challenging Democratic Rep. John LaFalce.
“It turned out not to be a very good year for Republicans who tried to impeach Bill Clinton,” said Collins.
Within several months of losing the campaign, Collins and his brother-in-law acquired Bloch Industries in Henrietta, the first of 22 bankrupt or financially distressed firms he has bought over the years.
“They are all still alive,’’ he said. “In one way or another, the companies still exist.”
Many of the firms have been consolidated to improve efficiency and profitability. Bloch Industries, for instance, operates what had been six separate companies making products such as kitchen cabinets, commercial cabinets, doors and moldings.
An electrical business based in Cheektowaga operates as a consolidation of five other firms, according to Collins.
Collins made his second bid for political office in 2007, winning the race for Erie County executive with a pledge to run the county government as a business. But cuts he imposed on libraries and other services hurt his re-election chances in 2011 and he lost to Democrat Mark Poloncarz.
Most independent political handicappers rated Collins’ race against Hochul last year as a tossup in the Republican-leaning district, due to Hochul’s likability and expertise at retail politics.
Collins, a new face to residents in the eastern part of the district, plans to emulate Hochul’s record by attending community events himself or designating a staffer to attend.
He also plans to hold town hall meetings and do “telephone town halls” that reach thousands of constituents at a time.
Another priority for Collins will be constituent services.
“We hope to set a standard for best practices on constituent services,” Collins said, noting he’s long been an adherent of the Six Sigma strategy for improving manufacturing efficiency and reducing defects.
One district office is already operating in the Buffalo suburb of Lancaster and another one on the eastern side of the district will open soon on Main Street in the college town of Geneseo in Livingston County. Both will be within a 45-minute drive of all parts of the district, according to the congressman.