'Alive and well'

March 11, 2009
By: Vicki Bell

An item in yesterday's "Fabricating Update" e-newsletter described the dialogue surrounding reports of General Motors being more open to filing bankruptcy and the company's rebuttal that its stance on bankruptcy hasn't changed. This item concluded by noting that companies on the brink of disaster always make the news, but those that are doing okay seldom do—at least not beyond their local media. We asked subscribers to let us know if their companies are weathering the economic storm— if they are alive and well—and we would share their stories. How many responses have we had? One—from a company that manufactures heavy-equipment attachments. This company's story probably is true for others in metal fabricating that they are alive and well—all things considered.

The "Fabricating Update" reader who responded wrote, "'Weathering the Storm'—those were the exact words our CEO said in the meeting we had after the layoff of almost 20 percent of our work force in January of 09. He said, 'We will weather this storm as long as we keep our arms around one another and hang on.'

"Our company is making plans to get through the recession and come out strong on the other side. Upper management and sales have been busy drumming up new business, as well as investigating the purchase of the property next to our plant to expand. I felt comforted somewhat when I heard of the expansion idea.

"[Management feels] that many of our competitors are not going to make it through this mess intact, so they are gearing up to grab the customers and add them to our own as soon as the competition goes down.

"Our CEO said he has no guarantees what will happen tomorrow, or the next day, or next month/year. He said we currently are financially strong and that is a good thing to be right now.
So, hopefully all will remain alive and well here."

I receive news alerts from various sites about metal manufacturing, so I often see items published in regional media about companies expanding—even during this recession—. Some are expanding their operations; some are entering new markets; and some are doing both.

Did you see the one about Hamilton, Ontario-based Lancaster Sheet Metal? Probably not, unless you read the Hamilton Spectator. March 9, the newspaper published "Bucking the trend: a metal success story," which described the company's building boom. The company is bursting at the seams and growing outward. Much of its work is custom fabrication, but it is breaking into automated production in a new plant, which will more than double the company's plant size.

When asked about the its survival strategy, company vice president Blair Hubber said, "Looking after our employees, first and foremost, and developing relationships with our customers. They know we'll complete the job on time and do a good job for them."

How about the article in the Bay City Times about a company in Essexville, Mich., that is planning to build a new manufacturing facility this year to produce wind turbines, after purchasing two to help power a building it constructed last year?

These stories remind us that—borrowing a phrase from my fellow blogger Tim Heston— it's not all gloom and doom. Some companies are defying the popular yet misguided notion that all manufacturing is going down the tubes.

Even GM workers haven't given up hope. Workers in a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, are hopeful that their company will survive in the face of what some believe to be impossible odds. They are carrying on business as usual, installing 840 robots to move steel parts and weld them into a car body. As quoted in the Salem News, Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 of the Lordstown Metal Center plant, said he doesn't see GM filing for bankruptcy.

"I refuse to give up hope that our future is going to be bright. We have skilled trades and contractors in the plant. We're moving forward with the (Chevrolet) Cruze. We should be ecstatic about what's going on here, but the world is messed up," said Green.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209