Madison-area manufacturers saw a moderately successful 2013, as companies continued to carefully plot and pursue a modest recovery from the steep economic downturn of 2008-2009.
While hiring for most remained low to nonexistent, layoffs were rare while office and plant expansions, equipment buys and the promise or reality of new business increasingly dictated bolder steps.
In January, custom parts fabricator Pro Metal Works of DeForest became more competitive after spending $1.6
million for an automated fiber-optic laser. Part of a new generation of faster, more efficient and more precise laser cutters, the equipment was expected to lower costs and increase capacity by letting the company make parts more quickly.
Also in January, Nelson Global Products opened a new, $3.75 million corporate headquarters in Stoughton, to help support rapid production expansion nationally and internationally since 2010. Accomplished mostly by acquisition, Nelson Global now employs 2,800 people in 13 factories worldwide — including 825 in Wisconsin — in the design and manufacture of metal tubes for the exhaust systems of commercial vehicles.
In June, Franklin Fueling Systems in Madison spent $2.8 million on added equipment and building space to make petroleum equipment, in an expansion to be assisted by $139,000 in state tax credits if the company manages to add 39 jobs in coming years. That was one of the year’s rare hiring announcements.
But in July, Poly-One Corp. said it would lay off about 90 employees at the former Spartech plant in Portage when that plant closes by the end of 2014.
Also in July, Viking Cue Manufacturing of Madison announced it would move its office and plant to a slightly smaller location in Middleton to streamline operations and allow for the adoption of new tools and technologies. Three people were to be hired as well.
Also over the summer, two more manufacturers celebrated major expansions, while a third shelved a project that would have added more than 100 jobs.
In May, Affiliated Construction Services, or ACS, of Madison broke ground on a $3.5 million, 40,000-square-foot plant in Middleton, to help the company fill expected increased 2014 orders for its equipment used for testing engines and vehicles.
And in August, sensor-maker Automation Components Inc., or ACI, opened a 14,100-square-foot new production facility for $1 million in the Middleton Business Park. ACI also expected to hire another 10 to 15 people to work in its new space over the next year.
But at Madison’s Weir Minerals, a mining equipment maker, the company in September confirmed it wasn’t going to build a 90,000-square-foot foundry as previously planned on south Stoughton Road, amid a global slump in mining that started last summer. If Weir had added the foundry to its existing manufacturing operations, dozens of temporary construction jobs were expected over two years, with 100 permanent foundry jobs added by early 2016.
And looking ahead to next year, Madison-based Swift Manufacturing & Engineering in December announced it would double its square footage to 5,000 and double its head count to nine in the coming months to handle growing business. Another 180 employees could be hired over the next three years if company growth continues, including a possible new contract being negotiated now with a Texas toy company involving the return of manufacturing work from China.