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New York Air Brake president speaks at '20 under 40' ceremony

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He's older than 40 years old, but an exception was made at Northern New York's 20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders ceremony Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn on Arsenal Street.

The keynote speaker was Michael J. Hawthorne, the 44-year-old president at New York Air Brake.

Mr. Hawthorne — a Clarkson University graduate who hails from Harrisville — returned to his roots by moving his family from Texas back to the north country. He'll now manage operations at the facility at 748 Starbuck Ave., where in July he replaced former president J. Paul Morgan, who held the position since 1993. Mr. Hawthorne started his career in 1995 as a young engineer at the Watertown facility, and he is back after spending 12 years leading one of Air Brake's subsidiaries in Texas.

More than 200 people attended the event hosted by NNY Business, a magazine owned by the Johnson Newspapers Corp., which honored a group of 20 upcoming young leaders. Event sponsors were Watertown Savings Bank, Northern New york Community Foundation, Greater Watertown Jaycees, Timeless Frames, Décor and Expressions, and Hilton Gardens Inn.

Mr. Hawthorne used Newton's Law of Motion as a metaphor for his mission at the facility, which he said will announce two new products next year.

Mr. Hawthorne likened Air Brake to a “body at rest” in Newton's Law during the speech, because he said the facility will stay in Watertown over the long term. But to do so, the company will have to discover ways to diversify its products to compete with companies overseas. Air Brake manufactures a wide range of products to serve the rail industry.

“The challenges we face are huge,” Mr. Hawthorne said. “To grow, I need to recruit talented engineers and labor in our plant. We need to build a critical mass of talent here to change the trajectory of business growth. We're competing with companies that have moved to Canada and Mexico.”

And just as bodies in motion stay moving, Mr. Hawthorne said Air Brake will need to continually improve and optimize its products to stay ahead of its competition.

“We want to have a broad spectrum of products because when the market swings up and down we need the ability to sell different things,” he said. “And when I talk about motion, it's also about how we can best move products from when we produce them to the end user.”

NNY Business magazine 20 Under 40 Class of 2012:

Andrea C. Bates, executive director, River Hospital Foundation, Alexandria Bay; Joshua Coburn, realty specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Real Estate Division, Fort Drum; Michelle A. Farrell, director of events, Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, Watertown; Blake P. Gendebien, owner, Twin Mill Farms and Twin Mill Lubricants, Lisbon, and co-founder, Jules of Life Foundation; Lucy M. Gerviss, attorney, Schwerzmann & Wise, Watertown; Daegan A. Gonyer, owner and founder, Blue Sphere Industries Ltd., Potsdam; and Jessica Hart, environmental analyst, N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, Watertown.

Also, Victoria E. Hasseler-Collins, attorney, Conboy, McKay, Bachman & Kendall, Watertown; Kenneth M. & Katrina G. Hebb, owners, Blackbird Café, St. Lawrence Brewing Co., Canton; Jonathan L. Hirschey, inside sales manager, Climax Paperboard, Carthage; Jennifer L. Karelus, office manager, Miller Spraying and president, Lewis County Farm Bureau, Lowville; Christina L. LeBoeuf, owner and founder, Light Touch Acupuncture, Massena; and Tracy L. Leonard, recruitment program manager, Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Watertown.

Also, Arian Mahmoodi, owner and founder, Sell Your Old iPhone.com, Potsdam; Daniel M. Myers, teacher, Lowville Academy, founder, Double Play Sports and co-owner, RBI Bats, Lowville; Molly C. Reilly, social studies teacher, Alexandria Central School, Alexandria Bay; Jesse C.P. Roshia, director of residential services, Children's Home of Jefferson County, Watertown; Timothy P. Sweeney, general manager, Tunes 92.5 FM WBLH, Watertown; Jake R. Tibbles, executive director, Thousand Islands Land Trust, Clayton; and Scott M. Wright, route supervisor, Pepsi-Cola Ogdensburg Bottlers, Ogdensburg.

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