Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

November 12, 2013

Manufacturing witnessing resurgence

KALKASKA – Kalkaska Screw Products buzzed with activity on a recent weekday afternoon – just like it does in the middle of the night, or in the midst of a long weekend.

Things don’t slow down at KSP these days, as the 28,500 square foot manufacturing plant just north of the village hums along 24/7 as part of a welcome resurgence in the region’s manufacturing sector. After Michigan led the country in manufacturing jobs lost from 2000 – 2010, shedding a staggering 46 percent of the manufacturing workforce, companies like KSP -- that survived the downturn -- are bullish on the future.

“Manufacturing is very strong, specifically manufacturing in the automotive industry,” said Kevin Schlueter, president of the employee-owned plant, which churns out a variety of components for the automotive industry for fuel injectors, air bags, brakes, seat belts and more.

Just a few years ago, the company’s future looked anything but certain. Its workforce shrunk to just 19 employees back in 2009 as KSP struggled through a double blow of major bankruptcies in the auto industry and the overall downturn of the recession.

“Everybody cut back, but we made it through,” Schlueter said.

These days, the company’s workforce has grown to 65 employees, who work in 10-hour shifts around the clock to keep up with the growing workload. Company sales grew an astounding 230 percent since 2010, and by making parts for car makers all over the world, Schlueter said there’s plenty of work to keep his workers busy for the foreseeable future.

“All the economic data we look at -- things look good through 2018,” Schlueter said. “The auto industry, hopefully, has right-sized itself.”

Fortunately for Michigan’s economy the turnaround at KSP, the Traverse City Area Chamber’s 2013 Small Business of the Year, is not an isolated story.

Since the state’s manufacturing sector bottomed out in 2009, the resurgence in the nation’s auto industry is sparking a state-wide revival. Mike Johnston, vice president of governmental affairs for the Michigan Manufacturing Association, said the state added an estimated 88,000 manufacturing jobs from the end of 2009 through March 2013.

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