Vancouver foundry shows mettle with expansion

The steel and iron caster hopes to capitalize on a strong market

Vancouver Iron and Steel, a local foundry that’s been part of the community for nearly 80 years, has plans to expand its operations.

The company manufactures steel castings for a multitude of original equipment manufacturers nationwide, including Columbia Machine and Commercial Repair and Machine Works in Vancouver.

"The industrial economy is very strong," said President Dan Swartz. "We are seeing major order activity from all of our customers and sectors."

Steel casting capacity in the U.S. has declined in the past several decades due to a number of recessions – such as the most recent economic downturn beginning in 2001 – off-shoring and bad decision making, said Swartz. Vancouver Iron and Steel remains, and is preparing to take advantage of renewed growth.

"It’s an excellent time to be investing in our infrastructure," said Swartz. "We are being pushed hard from a capacity standpoint."

The foundry has proposed adding onto its existing 30,000-square-foot facility and constructing a new building, which would double the building square footage on the nearly two-acre site along the west side of Lincoln Avenue just south of Mill Plain Boulevard in downtown Vancouver. The space would be occupied predominately by manufacturing operations with some office space. The company would also invest in new equipment.

"It will increase our capacity and allow us to accordingly increase sales," said Swartz.

Vancouver Iron and Steel is early in the permitting process but would like to move forward as quickly as possible to meet market demand.

"We are coming apart at the seams and are hopeful to get through the planning and permitting expeditiously with the city to get expansion completed," said Swartz. "We have the largest backlog since the early 1980s."

Swartz said it is too early to determine the cost of the project.

Swartz purchased the foundry in June 2004 from Lionheart Industries, a holding company that went bankrupt in April 2003. The foundry has gone through a number of name changes and owners since it was founded in 1928.

Swartz said the foundry, then called Varicast, was mismanaged by Lionheart when it ran into trouble during the recent recession.

The business had sales of less than $10 million in 2003, and Swartz expects Vancouver Iron and Steel will exceed sales of $15 million in 2006. The company also has a facility in Portland. Combined, Vancouver Iron and Steel has about 150 employees. The planned expansion could boost that to above 200.

"We have the opportunity to continue to try to expand and capitalize on an improving market for our products," said Swartz.

The company has employed Vancouver’s Wilson Associates architects to design the proposed project.