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Metal producers, fabricators tout growth by specialization

Southwest Washington-based fabricators optimistic about growing economy

Fabricators in Southwest Washington are looking forward to a healthy forecast for the coming year amidst signs that business conditions are improving.

At Hi-Tech Metal Fab in Vancouver, Owner Timo Toristoja said that his company’s marine fabrication business has been growing during the past several years, whereas the structural fabrication side saw demand weaken with the broader economy.
Overall, Toristoja said he sees reason for optimism.

“I do see some increase in activity. We’ve put quite a bit of work on the books for the last few months, and we’re booked out for a while now, which we haven’t had in a few years. We’re kind of seeing some light at the end of the tunnel,” he explained.

At ABC Plastics in Vancouver, President Doug Hall said that the company is bullish for 2013.

“Right now we’re in the process of developing products for new customers, because we do see that the economy is turning, and things are getting better.”

ABC Plastics makes custom injection molded plastic products. That customization, Hall commented, has helped keep the business afloat.

“We have some niche products which we do for companies that are worldwide, and that’s what has held us through the slow spots in the economy,” Hall said.

Finding a profitable niche or specialization has been a common path to success for many of Southwest Washington’s fabricators.

At Speedfab Welding and Metal Fabrication, owner John Gaynor provides custom fabrication, offering work with specialized materials such as stainless steel, aluminum and titanium. According to Gaynor, “from the middle of last year until about now, business has picked up quite a bit.”

Gaynor has a background in auto racing, and has utilized that experience to specialize in high grade fabrication, building prototypes and parts for cars, boats and a broad range of custom projects.

“The quality control on those race cars was so high, I try to treat every project like a race car,” he said. “As far as quality, if I don’t like it myself, I won’t send it out the door. It should completely exceed everyone’s expectations.”

Back at Hi-Tech Metal Fab, Toristoja takes a similar view.

“We find ourselves better at more complex work, stuff that people get scared of,” he said. “There’s more risk, but then there’s also greater reward. We excel at that kind of stuff.”

Toristoja pointed to his company’s work for the marine sector, which he said “has grown like crazy.” He also noted that they’ve faced considerably less competition there.

“[Competition] is the main difference between the marine business and the structural business. In the marine business we have four competitors in the area, while in the structural business we have 40 competitors,” he explained.

However, even in more competitive markets, there appears to be reason for optimism. Toristoja said that the structural fabrication market as a whole seems to be coming back after some flat years.

Large local fabricators like Greenberry Industrial are seeing some positive signs as well. According to company spokesman Dan Rubin, “Greenberry Industrial has seen tremendous growth in the global oil and gas equipment manufacturing business the past few years.”

Greenberry operates a deep water-access fabrication facility on the Columbia River. Containing more than 150,000 square feet of fabrication space, the site provides an ideal location for large-scale projects.

“Much of Greenberry’s high-profile fabrication work is commissioned by global oil and gas leaders because of its unique Vancouver facility,” Rubin commented, noting the proximity to growing oil development in the Arctic and Canadian oil sands.
The result, Rubin said, is “hundreds of high-paying positions in Southwest Washington and the region.”

Just as these local companies report a pickup in business, Hall said that the state of manufacturing continues to shift back to U.S. production.

“We have some customers in the past six months to a year that are looking to bring their production and manufacturing back to the U.S.,” he reported.

Gaynor, meanwhile, said his goal is to expand Speedfab “during the next few years” by continuing to pick up accounts with local business. At the same time, he noted, the company will continue to focus on serving a niche.

“There are so many good companies in the area, I’m not trying to compete with them, I’m just trying to do the stuff they don’t want to do,” he said.

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