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23Oct

Bringing Advanced Metals Manufacturing Back to the U.S. — and Portage County

By Portage County Business Council

According to Dave Worth, President/CEO of the Worth Company, imported goods have long presented a challenge to American manufacturers in all industries. What varies, notes Worth, is the country producing the majority of imported goods to the U.S. “In the 60s it was Japan. Korea was strong in the 80s and 90s and China took over at the turn of the century.” That said, he notes, “China’s role seems to have run its course.” At least that’s what he’s experienced first-hand at Worth.

Worth Company, established 70 years ago as a metal fabricator for the fishing industry, has diversified its offerings. Today, Worth remains a major supplier of fishing lure components and consumer marine products, but the business has diversified to include mass production of stamped products, wire forms and split and key rings. Last year they produced approximately a billion parts on their high-speed metal manufacturing equipment.

Worth concedes that the last few years have not been easy for advanced metal manufacturers in the central Wisconsin region. “A lot of businesses like ours dried up and went away,” he notes, either due to the recession or increased competition from China. “But a strength of this region is the fact that we still have some very diverse, quality advanced metal manufacturers who have weathered the last few years and they are very strong, healthy businesses.”

As examples, Worth mentions Pointe Precision and Marten Machining. Pointe Precision, located in Plover, Wisconsin, is a CNC machine shop with high-level turning, milling, grinding, heat-treating, EDM, and other machining capabilities that services aerospace, industrial, medical, recreational and commercial manufacturers. Marten Machining, of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, designs, manufactures and tests precision tooling, fixtures and specialized machine parts for a variety of industries. Marten Machining specializes in high precision five-axis milling, CNC turning, wire EDM and surface grinding production with submicron quality tolerance. Worth explains, “Between the three of us, we cover the whole gamut of most metal fabricating requirements — and we do it right here in Portage County.”

“Advanced metal manufacturers like these, who have survived the last few years, are positioned to fill the vacuum,” explains Worth. The vacuum, Worth notes, has been created by a drop in China’s metal manufacturing. “In the last 18 months, we have been very busy. We now manufacture parts for automobiles, aircraft, and windows. We’ve diversified and that business has really picked up as metal manufacturing has come back to the U.S.”

According to Worth, the demand for component parts and automated machinery to make fishing lures has “skyrocketed” in the last six to eight months. “Rising fuel and transportation costs have made it less appealing to manufacture in China. While labor is more expensive in the U.S., component parts are less expensive here. And the logistics of manufacturing in China are complicated and expensive.” He continues, “When you manufacture overseas, you really need to get your demand predictions right. If they’re not, you’ll have a whole freight container shipped back to the U.S. that may or may not have the products you need to meet demand. If you’re short on something, you have to air freight it and that’s expensive. You can’t react to supply and demand as quickly when you’re shipping from China — you can if you’re manufacturing in the U.S. because you have greater flexibility.”

Worth is encouraged by the strong up tick in his business because it’s indicative of an up tick in other American businesses — Worth is a business-to-business manufacturer. “More companies are setting up operations in America again and that is driving demand for our products,” he notes.

Worth also sees indications that advanced manufacturing is an increasingly ripe career opportunity. “A few decades ago, advanced manufacturing had the reputation of being an uncomfortable, unpleasant and dirty occupation. It’s completely different today. It’s friendly, high-tech and provides a decent wage. That’s an eye-opener for people.”