Clinton County’s strong work force and central location have captivated manufacturing companies for much of the county’s history. Local residents are still engaged in the manufacture of a wide range of products, ranging from automobile parts to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Manufacturing represents approximately 20% of the private sector employment for Clinton County, employing more than 3,500 people paying over $137 million a year in annual wages.
- Ferno-Washington — Medical Equipment
- Alkermes — Pharmaceutics
- TimberTech — Alternative Decking
- New Sabina Industries — Automotive Dashboards
- Ahresty Corporation — Automotive aluminum diecasting
Ferno-Washington, Inc. started with plants in Greenfield and Washington Court House. When the Air Force left its base in Clinton County in 1971, county officials decided to convert the facility into an industrial park. Ferno’s founders saw an opportunity to consolidate their operations under one roof, and became the the park’s first residents. “The timing was perfect,” said Bob Ginter, vice president of human resources.
Ferno manufactures emergency patient handling equipment such as back boards, ambulance cots, neck immobilizers and emergency stretchers. It also produces a line of mortuary equipment including cots, embalming tables and church trucks that wheel a casket down the aisle. The company has wholly and partially owned subsidiaries in several countries in Europe and Asia, with a more than 500 employees across the globe. The Wilmington facility employs more than 200 people.
“People in Clinton County have a work ethic second to none,” said Ginter. “They also have a resiliency, an ability to bounce back.”
Ginter said that the company has grown stronger during the recession through innovation and creativity, expanding its markets from Europe into Asia and developing a flexible work force in which individuals are trained in multiple areas.
“We emphasize quality and efficiency,” he said. “In the emergency field, technology changes everyday. We try to stay on the cutting edge.”
Alkermes became a part of the Clinton County community in 1994. In 1992, local entrepreneur Ralph Stolle and DuPont collaborated to develop a biodegradable polymer process in a 13,000-square foot building. In 1994, Alkermes bought that process, and began manufacturing its two main drugs, Risperdal Consta, a treatment for schizophrenic and bipolar patients, and Vivtrol, which treats drug and alcohol addictions.
The polymer creates a time release for the medication. This means that a treatment for schizophrenia which usually must be taken twice a day can instead be administered through a monthly or biweekly injection. The warmth and moisture within the body slowly breaks down the polymer, releasing the medication consistently, eliminating the highs and lows from the traditional tablet application.
Since production began 20 years ago, the Wilmington facility has expanded regularly. Additional labs and warehouses have increased the size of the building to more than 200,000 square feet, representing a total investment of more than $150 million. Unlike many other industries, pharmaceutical companies are less affected by economic downturns.
In September 2011, Alkermes purchased Elan Drug Technologies and added about 23 more drugs to its repertoire. In February, Alkermes partnered with Amglin and Lilly Pharmaceutical companies to launch a new diabetes medication that reduces injections from twice a day to only once a week. In the purchase of Elan, Alkermes also acquired LinkeRx technology, another process to produce extended release medications.
The industry is also trending toward contracting out manufacturing. Alkermes is pursuing the possibility of picking up some of this production, an opportunity that could create more jobs in the county.
To prepare its workforce, Alkermes has been aggressive in developing training programs for the pharmaceutical industry. These programs enable the company to train new employees who have no previous experience, widening the hiring pool.
TimberTech manufactures composite decking. This includes planks, railings and fencing made of a combination of wood and high density polyethylene or poly-vinyl chlorite (PVC). The combination of raw materials renders the structures more durable towards wind and other natural elements, as well as requiring lower maintenance on the final projects.
The company has been in Clinton County since 1999. Started as a new department of its parent company Crane Plastics in 1997, the operation quickly outgrew its Columbus location, said Chief Operating Officer Tom Gramlich. Crane Plastics purchased the building formerly owned by Cincinnati Milacron, and moved the plant south to take advantage of the labor force and “good work ethic” in Clinton County.
TimberTech employs 225 people in the county. This number includes employees hired through a partnership with Orion, a program for developmentally disabled adults. Each day, 8 to 10 people enrolled in the program go to TimberTech to work cutting parts and labeling sample products.
The company displays a commitment to the environment as well as the community. Green recycling bins line the production area. According to Plant Manager Ralph Baker, 90 percent of the waste materials are recycled and nothing is shipped to a landfill.
Though forced to downsize in 2009, Gramlich said TimberTech’s production is back up to its pre-recession levels.
“We’ve been able to withstand and rebound with the economy,” he said. “We aimed to be ‘right-sized,’ and a continued focus on being the best decking and railing company in the country has enabled us to grow our sales.” Gramlich said he feels “bullish” about the economy. Forecasts for the repair and remodel industries are high for the second half of 2012 and all of 2013.
“We’re a privately-held company and we have aggressive plans for growth in the next two to three years,” he said.
“We’re looking to sales to grow first, followed by jobs and equipment and possibility an expansion in Wilmington. We have the room here to expand if we need to.”
>> Watch Art Dierks, Vice-President of Operations at TimberTech, talk about the advantages to running a manufacturing facility in Wilmington.
New Sabina Industries makes and assembles the instrumentation present in a dashboard, such as speedometers, tachometers and fuel gauges. The company began mass production in Sabina in 1987.
“Honda’s success made it important for suppliers in Japan to open transplant operations here in the United States,” said Jack Filkins, director of administration. “The people in Sabina impressed the founders. They saw a good opportunity here because of the hard working population.”
Filkins said the company founders were seeking a small town, good relationship with the community, and a stable employment base. They recognized the work ethic required to survive in agriculture, and Sabina did not disappoint.
“Statistically, absenteeism is low here — well below the industry average,” he said. New Sabina’s turnover rate is also less than 10 percent, compared to an industry average of about 30 percent. The average employee has been with the company for 14 and a half years. “Our work force is very stable. People have the knowledge, ownership, pride in their jobs,” Filkins added.
New Sabina Industries now employs more than 400 people from Clinton and surrounding counties. The 2008 and 2009 recession period was the first time New Sabina Industries had a layoff. At its peak, the company employed more than 500. At its lowest point that number dropped to 350. However, production is once again growing, and with this growth comes jobs. The company recently added 15 employees.
“We’re slowly building back up,” Filkins said, “and we’re a stronger company for having gone through that low.”
According to Filkins, diversification of customers helped New Sabina Industries survive the economic downturn. The company now serves not only Honda, but also Chrysler and Subaru. When Chrysler took a hit during the recession, New Sabina was able to lean on Honda. When Honda was impacted from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, New Sabina was able to lean on Chrysler. The company recently began working with GM as well. Filkins said that the company was proud to add GM to its list of customers and has “high hopes” for the business relationship.
The three industry indexes are quality, delivery and cost. While New Sabina has always led the field in terms of quality and delivery, its greatest challenge is reducing costs. “We see manufacturers move to other countries for cheaper labor, and it challenges us in Sabina to do everything better,” said Filkins.
Though it can’t compete in direct labor costs, productivity and technology have enabled the plant to remain competitive. “We’ve not only held our ground, but have increased in size, reverse of the trend of most American manufacturers,” he said.
Ahresty Wilmington Corporation has been operating in Wilmington since 1989. The company does high pressure aluminum diecasting, creating car parts often found in the engine or transmission. It also assembles about 70 percent of its cast aluminum parts.
When the company’s Japanese managing directors began looking for a suitable factory site, Wilmington was the first place they visited. After touring more than 60 other locations, they returned to Wilmington.
“I think they had a gut feeling that Wilmington was good,” said Justin Rummer, president of Ahresty Wilmington Corporation. “They liked the overall look and feel of the small town, the location between Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus, and the stable work force that was available.”
Ahresty now employs 469 people in Wilmington. It is the only Ahresty plant in the United States. Other plants are present in Japan, China, Mexico, Thailand and India.
Ahresty, like many other companies in the automotive industry, was hit hard in 2008. The company laid off 121 employees. “We downsized, restructured, and now we’re back in a growth phase,” said Rummer.
The company has added 80 personnel since March 2010, and Rummer said that the industry forecasts look good.
Though many manufacturing companies are moving factories to other countries, Rummer said this trend is not an issue for Ahresty. “The parts we make are large. The shipping costs are prohibitive across borders,” he said. “We locate where our customers are.”
As the industry has evolved, customers have demanded more machinery parts and the technology has had to grow. As a result, Ahresty Wilmington Corporation is an “entity that stands rather on its own,” according to Rummer.
The Wilmington plant has taken on the responsibility of educating other subsidiary companies in how to manage and run operations. “We have been seen by our parent company as an equal entity rather than another child company,” said Rummer. “It’s rather rare and we’re rather proud.”
Rummer said that Ahresty wants to continue its growth in the United States market, and, while not expecting a production explosion, he definitely expects to see the company return to its 2007 levels of production later this year, and even hopes to exceed those levels in 2013.