Hire 250 in one year, grab headlines

March 4, 2008
By: Tim Heston

A metal fabricator that hires 250 people in one year grabs attention.

That's just what armored-part manufacturer Ultra Machine and Fabrication did yesterday afternoon at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new, 101,000-square-foot facility in Shelby, N.C., west of Charlotte, amid the Southeast's burgeoning defense corridor. As reported by the The Star, a Cleveland County, N.C., newspaper, the new facility will give Ultra the space it needs for its 400 employees. Such expansion is quite an accomplishment, considering the company employed fewer than 30 in 2005.

That's rightfewer than 30, just three years ago.

"One of the most visible things for me is the amount of jobs we've been able to offer to the community," said Frank Stewart, Ultra president, during the ceremony. "We hired over 250 people in '07."

Growth like that was enough to bring Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdueand Democratic gubernatorial candidateto the ribbon-cutting. "[This] helps solidify [North Carolina's] standing not only as a leader in 21st-century defense industry manufacturing; we're also the most military-friendly state in America. That's the brand we have for North Carolina today.

"When a company like Ultra chooses to do business in this state, it makes us all better people," Perdue continued. "Folks across the country sleep better because they know their son or their daughter [in the military] is in an Ultra product."

"We"re going to be able to do a lot of things in this new building," said Stewart, "things that in 2005 or even 2006 would be hard to believe could happen."

The company, launched in 1989, obviously has tapped a growing defense market. There has been quite a demand for armor parts in recent years. But my feeling is it takes more than a healthy market to account for such dramatic growth. During the past year, for instance, Ultra made some major technology investments suited for heavy-duty cutting and bending.

"We made a huge financial investment this past year," Stewart said during a video podcast for the The Star. "We purchased two 6,000-watt, 200-foot lasers. They are probably to our knowledge [among] the longest lasers on the East Coast." He added that the company also purchased a 2,000-ton press brake with a 40-foot bed.

And remember, Ultra made these investments while hiring an additional 250 workersthis in what economists say is a struggling economy.

News of a struggling economy continued yesterday. In fact, Ultra's afternoon ribbon-cutting occurred just hours after the Institute for Supply Management™ released its manufacturing numbers for February. While Ultra's event showcased some amazing growth in manufacturing, ISM's news wasn"t so good. The organization"s manufacturing index, the PMIclosely watched by Wall Streetfell to its lowest level in five years.

"The manufacturing sector failed to grow during the month as the PMI fell below 50 percent, which indicates weaker performance in February when compared to January," Norbert Ore, chair of ISM's Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, said in yesterday's release. "Manufacturers' order backlogs continue to erode as the New Orders Index remained below 50 percent for the third consecutive month. With the Inventories and Customer Inventories Indexes indicating that manufacturing inventories are at reasonable levels, the major concern is rising prices and falling volume."

That's pretty negative. But as reported by the The Wall Street Journal and others, things aren't so bad. While the PMI is below 50, it's not that far belowat 48.3. During a typical recession, the PMI hovers around 41, the newspaper said.

"The weak dollar is a bright spot for manufacturers," Ore told the Journal. "In the near term I expect to see a number of readings indicating not a lot of change taking place in manufacturingjust holding its own and treading water in 2008."

The way I see it, some are treading water while others, like Ultra, are catching waves. The good news is that the surf"s up, and those who"ve made the investment in finding the right markets, people, and technology are having quite a ride.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314