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Manufacturers expect steady growth in '98

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

The theme for local manufacturers in 1998 will be continuity, said Greg Williams, director of business and industry attraction at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

Williams noted that manufacturing has a greater local economic impact than any other business or institutional sector in the community.

"We need to protect industry for our own economic benefit," Williams said.

Plant managers in several local industries are expecting '98 to be a growth year, based on the strength of the local economy coupled with current national economic stability.

At 3M, two major expansion projects are in progress, according to Bob Ringgenberg, local plant manager. The first addition, expected to be completed by April, is a $5 million freezer storage facility, designed to store components for adhesives used in the aerospace industry.

The second, $25 million expansion will take most of 1998 to complete and will house processing for a new composite aerospace product, Ringgenberg said. The expansion will create some new jobs, but not many, he added.

Ringgenberg attributes the steady growth at his facility to the airline industry, which uses more and more composite materials, such as fiberglass and graphite, requiring more of the bonding agents produced by 3M.

The auto industry has also switched to adhesives instead of welding for some parts, creating work for the local plant which produces these products.

3M has experienced a 10 percent to 15 percent growth rate in the last three to four years, and Ringgenberg said he expects that trend to continue into '98.

Mike Briggs, vice president and general manager at Hudson Foods, said it is hard to predict the future at Hudson, as the company will become a part of Tyson Foods by mid-January this year. Acclimation to the new organization will be the biggest thing on the agenda for '98, he said.

Hudson's 15,000 employees nationwide will merge with Tyson's 50,000 to the mutual benefit of both companies, Briggs stated.

The local Hudson plant underwent a 10,000-square-foot expansion in 1997, hiring 50 new employees in the process. No new expansion plans are in the works for '98.

Briggs indicated he feels good about the domestic market in 1998, and he expects the merger to broaden the customer base.

The only uncertain market, according to Briggs, is the Asian market, due to the turmoil in the Middle East.

John Gentry, president of Positronic Industries, shared the concern about the Asian marketplace.

"Asia can affect the entire U.S. economy," Gentry said.

Positronic is moving ahead in '98 with plans for a new building in the city of Mount Vernon to replace a rented facility in that area.

The new facility will provide additional space and produce additional jobs, according to Gentry.

Gentry stated that his company has developed three new products in the last year and expects a 10 percent to 20 percent growth rate in '98, both nationally and internationally, barring any setbacks in Asia.

Stone Container Corp. expects a record year in 1998, according to Sheila Collins, general manager.

Collins said she expects business from current customers to increase, while new customers will be sought for the corrugated shipping containers made by the company.

"Ninety percent of what travels goes in a box," Collins said.

Basically, local industries are looking forward to healthy sustained growth in the coming year, Williams said.

The chamber works closely with companies and with the Missouri Department of Economic Development to strengthen industry and find new markets.

Most local manufacturers find it beneficial to participate in the chamber's Industrial Council, which meets at 7:30 a.m. at the chamber on the third Thursday of each month, Williams said.

The meetings cover critical issues and timely topics of use to companies, he added.

They also provide information and networking for participants and are not strictly for manufacturers, he pointed out. Vendors, suppliers and customers are also welcome at the meetings.

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