American manufacturing comes back

July 2, 2012
I’m feeling encouraged about the state of American manufacturing. For a while there, it seemed like everything was made in China. The only thing we made here was hamburgers. That picture is changing.

I’m feeling encouraged about the state of American manufacturing. For a while there, it seemed like everything was made in China. The only thing we made here was hamburgers. That picture is changing.

About a year ago, I got to tour NIBCO’s cast iron valve foundry in Blytheville, Ark., that is prospering, said NIBCO Chairman of the Board and CEO Rex Martin.

“Due to the growing demand for NIBCO valves in the international and domestic markets, this facility reflects our strategic commitment to keep manufacturing and distribution in Blytheville while increasing our production capacity to meet our customers’ needs,” he said.

His wife, Alice Martin, vice chairman of the board and chief people officer, emphasized that the plant provides good-paying American jobs creating products that are shipped all over the world, contrary to the notion that all new jobs in the U.S. are low-paying retail and service sector positions.

Earlier this year, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), a group of seven U.S. solar manufacturers, cheered when a revised research presentation from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded Chinese production of crystalline silicon solar technology for the U.S. market costs more than U.S. production for the domestic market when the costs of shipping are included.

That’s right, U.S.-made solar collectors are cheaper. The Commerce Department has ruled that the Chinese were dumping cheap photovoltaic panels into the U.S. market and has imposed duties up to 249.96% on Chinese solar panels.

I’ve had the pleasure of touring the foundry of Charlotte Pipe & Foundry and seeing how they make cast iron pipe and fittings that end up in structures such as the New Doha International Airport, the Qatar Convention Center, and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

In our May issue, we reported that the automotive bailout has worked and Toledo, Ohio-based Dunbar Mechanical is being offered more automotive and industrial work in northwestern Ohio than it can bid. Donald Yerks, director of marketing for Dunbar Mechanical, said the industrial market in northwest Ohio is as strong as it’s been in the last eight years. His headcount is up by 100 men over last year. He’s working in the automotive, steel, glass and chemical industries performing process piping, utility piping for water and gas, and material handling and rigging.

Recently we were introduced to the term “re-shoring” when Channellock sent us a pair of its namesake tongue-and-groove pliers with an announcement that they were being made in Meadeville, Pa.

“It’s an exciting moment for us because we’re offering professionals and DIYers a great selection of quality pliers that is now 100% manufactured in the United States,” said Ryan DeArment, vice president of sales and marketing at Channellock Inc.

And, finally, we report in this issue on the made-in-America focus of German pump manufacturer Wilo USA. While hydronic circulators are still made in Germany, any Wilo pump 2-HP or larger comes out of Thomasville, Ga.

When I joined this publication, Editor Emeritus Seth Shepard bemoaned the fact that there had been more than 100 domestic faucet manufacturers, but the EPA had put most U.S. foundries out of business. It was heartening to hear, then, that Wilo is buying pump impellers and volutes from foundries in Georgia, Alabama, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Plant Manager Paulina Tompea said that one water utility customer had an emergency and that a U.S. foundry got the pump castings to Thomasville, Ga., in four days. You can’t get service like that from a foundry more than 6,000 miles away.

The jobs at Thomasville are good jobs — CNC machine operators are well paid. President Mark D’Agostino explained that Wilo will grind the raw castings so that the finished pump meets the performance requirements of the customer exactly. Not close, but exactly. That’s a high-skill job best done by Americans in America.

EMCOR Group CEO Anthony Guzzi has told us that for all intents and purposes it doesn’t cost any more to manufacture in the southeastern United States than it does in China after you add in transportation costs.

American manufacturing is coming back and, with it, opportunities for plumbing, piping and mechanical contractors.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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