By Daniel McCoy
Seventy-two percent of local manufacturers with 300 or fewer employees, reported flat or improved employment in 2010, according to this year’s list of the area’s largest manufacturers.
Employment numbers at Wichita’s major general aviation manufacturers remain depressed, but signs of stability – and even growth – are popping up among the city’s smaller shops.
According to information obtained by the Wichita Business Journal for its list of the area’s largest manufacturers, published this week on pages 24 and 25, 18 of the 25 companies with 300 or fewer workers reported the same or higher employment totals than in 2009. Comparable data wasn’t available for four other companies.
It’s a sign smaller shops have been able to weather the storm through diversification and cutting back on hours to keep their work forces largely intact, says Donna Funk, of the firm Kennedy and Coe LLC and president of the Wichita Manufacturers Association.
“I think what you see in Wichita is indicative of what you see across the state,” she says. “Smaller shops are serving more than one industry, which helps them. Also, when times are good, people are working a lot of overtime. When times are slow they aren’t working as much but they’re not being let go.
A good sign
Funk says that some industries, such as agricultural equipment production, haven’t been hit as hard as aviation and “knock on wood, maybe they won’t.”
Other companies have benefited from the fact that their niche market has recovered sooner than others.
That’s the case at RV Products, which jumped 13 spots on this year’s list to No. 22.
CEO Melvin Adams says sales of RVs, the vehicles his business makes parts for, have recovered nicely in 2010 following two years of decline.
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, shipments of RVs through October 2010 were up to 210,600, a 53 percent increase from the same period in 2009.
Adams says the resurgence of the market and the addition of some new accounts have helped him grow his employment to 209 workers, a 37.8 percent increase year over year.
He also says his success could be a sign of better days to come for other shops.
“Historically, what we’ve seen is that RV sales have been a good indicator of the overall economy,” he says.
The general aviation market appears to be at least a year away from any noticeable uptick.
Industry leaders predict 2011 will be another difficult year.
For the numerous local shops tied into the aircraft industry, the market for military and commercial work has proved far more stable.
Among those seeing better returns on military and commercial work are Nex-Tech Aerospace and its processing business, Nex-Tech Processing.
NTP in July secured an incentive package from the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County that will help it add 43 jobs during the next two years.
Part of the growth includes a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. for the processing of aluminum parts on the Joint Strike Fighter, says general manager Terry Karst. NTP announced that contract Monday.
Karst says he’s also had good luck winning commercial work through the city’s largest manufacturer, Spirit AeroSystems Inc., which employs 10,300 people.
Spirit’s primary customers, The Boeing Co. and Airbus, are planning production increases in the coming years.
Sticking with commercial work rather than banking on general aviation seems to be paying off.
“Given the cycle that we’re in right now, it’s probably a good thing,” he says.
Source: WICHITA BUSINESS JOURNAL