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Local Manufacturing Dead? Not Even Close.

The foundry is burning hot at RH Industries these days
The foundry is burning hot at RH Industries these days

Tina Haddad has always been a shopper. But as CEO of RH Industries, a small metal shop on Cleveland's west side, Haddad isn't out shopping for personal items. She's spent the recession looking for deals on equipment at auctions of companies going out of business.

Tina Haddad: You'll see a lot of the equipment here is not the new, latest 2011, but I'm buying equipment made in the '90's. They are great workhorses and they've got great life in them. So, I think that's the only way we are going to be able to compete with the market nowadays is to automate faster.

Among the bargains Haddad found was a machine that spins metal into dome shapes to make commercial lights. It came from Cleveland's Spero Lighting which closed in February 2009. Haddad, whose company had no debt, also hired on some of Spero's laid-off staff. She added a whole new product line even when demand in her shop and others was slowing dramatically. It's a bet that she says is about to pay off.

Tina Haddad: A lot of quoting. We are doing a lot of quoting out there both for the military and also for the commercial lighting section and also just our general machine shop.

Haddad credits her investments with helping her 20-person company through the recession and she's now working on new contracts for outdoor lights for Outback Steakhouse and Panera Bread restaurants.

Other small manufacturers are also feeling better about the economy. Mike Duffin heads the Precision Machined Parts Association and regularly talks with the CEOs of his group's 450 member manufacturers across the country.

Mike Duffin: I've had several people tell me in the last month that they are not really accepting or even looking to quote on any new projects for the balance of this year. They don't have enough capacity to take on any new projects. They are so busy.

So busy that they will hire? Yes, maybe…a bit. The state of Ohio's most recent actual count of jobs for the fall of 2010 was released this week. Ohio gained only about a thousand jobs, but even that miniscule growth has economist George Zeller chirping and he's not known for being overly optimistic in his forecasts.

George Zeller: We've been losing manufacturing jobs for more than a decade here in Ohio, but during the past year we actually saw job growth in manufacturing in Ohio. And the largest component of that growth was right here in Cuyahoga County, that's exceptionally good news.

Cuyahoga County gained over 1,700 manufacturing jobs in the third quarter of 2010 from the previous year. Youngstown and Toledo also showed job gains, reflecting the recovery of the US automotive industry. Kevin Johnson heads Fischer Special Tooling in Mentor which does tooling for the auto industry. Johnson says his staff survived the recession with rotating layoffs, but now they are so busy, staff have been regularly working overtime for months.

Kevin Johnson: Last year we, according to the government, made money but that all that money we had to fill empty buckets and we expect 2011 to be having some buckets overflow which we are going to take that and invest in the company again in hiring people.

Not all sectors of manufacturing are recovering says Timothy Dunn, a vice president of research at the Federal Reserve of Cleveland.

Timothy Dunn: If you looked at those manufacturers that are making products for the housing industry or construction, right, those industries are still suffering. Alternatively, you've seen a good bounce back in autos, though we are still not where we were, and those firms that are exporters have done pretty well.

Back at RH Industries, CEO Tina Haddad says the tone of her conversations with other small business owners has changed. For months, she and colleagues focused on worries about overseas competition, the recession and possible inflation.

Tina Haddad: People are very cautious although [there's] a lot of optimism out there in the industry. Basically if you can hold on, things will turn.

Haddad herself is holding on to hear back on possible contracts and believes her company will also be hiring soon. Mhari Saito, 90.3.