Given the fact that most stainless steel tank fabricators are small, family owned businesses, one could assume that the Great Recession and accompanying credit crunch would continue to have a significant impact on most firms bottom lines. But that would be wrong.
"We just put on a second shift," said Cheryl Schuster, sales manager for Buckeye Fabricating Co. in Springboro, Ohio. "We have a work force of 34 or 35 people right now, and we are definitely busier than we were at this time last year."
P.L. Questad, general manager at Superior Steel Products Inc. in Caldwell, Idaho, said that "weve had nothing but growth every year since the recession. Last year was our second-biggest year, and this year is going to be the biggest. We have had to work harder, but we have not slowed down."
No-one is quite sure what the reason is for the rapid recovery from the 2008-09 recession, but most fabricators point out that the companies generally are small, flexible and fairly well diversified in their product mix.
It is an axiom of any recession that some industry segments weather economic hardships better than others. The cutback in federal ethanol subsidies is a case in point. Midwest fabricators tell the story of one competitor who increased his work force to 1,200 people at the height of the ethanol boom but is now down to a work force of just over 300 people.
"We have to be consistent in our employment practices because we are in a rural area," said John Fearn, a sales representative for Walker Stainless Equipment Co. in New Lisbon, Wis. "You cant just hire and fire people. You are talking about craftsmen putting these things together. Fabricating storage tanks is a craft that takes years to learn." Walker Stainless, which employs about 200 people at several business units in Wisconsin, has been hiring recently.
As for the industrys rapid recovery from the recession, Fearn pointed out that much of the storage tank product line goes to sanitary process facilities for food, beverage and dairy applications. "The nice thing for the food industry is that everybody has to eat," he said.