Manufacturing firms bring new jobs, but some depart

Manufacturing companies both new and expanding probably will continue to be one of the largest sources of new employment in northern Nevada during 2012.

But the sector's strong growth in recent months has been accompanied by a somewhat larger disappearance of manufacturing jobs as companies quietly trim their staffs, fold up or move away.

Statewide, gains in manufacturing employment have been few, and the State Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation says that statewide employment in the sector remains stuck at the lowest levels since the mid-1990s.

But new jobs are being created.

Advanced manufacturing companies, one of the primary targets for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, accounted for well over half of the 670 jobs created by the agency's target industries in its 2010-2011 fiscal year.

That continued a trend of strong growth in the sector that began a year earlier, and EDAWN executives see no signs that the growth is going to slow any time soon.

About 40 percent of the companies that are seriously scouting the area for new locations these days are manufacturers, says Stan Thomas, EDAWN's vice president of business development.

Many of those companies are hoping to move away from California's burdensome tax and regulatory environment, Thomas says.

"They're totally frustrated with what is going on over there," he says. "We tell them, 'You can grow here.'"

Along with frustrated California companies, manufacturers who are looking to diversify their operations sometimes driven by a desire to be closer to West Coast customers account for some of the interest in northern Nevada.

And some companies such as Pacific Cheese, which first brought distribution operations to Reno, now are adding manufacturing operations as well.

For manufacturing companies that already have operations in northern Nevada, job growth isn't always headline news.

B&J Machine & Tool Inc. in Sparks, for instance, added four jobs increasing its staff to nearly 50 when it installed a 12,500-square-foot powder-coating operation this fall.

Greg Fisher, vice president of B&J, says the company expects that the complicated, months-long project will allow it to capture powder-coating work that's previously been shipped out of northern Nevada to California facilities.

ACH Foam Technologies added another four jobs when it expanded production of structural insulated panels at its factory east of Sparks.

Four jobs here and four jobs there can be significant when they are multiplied across many companies.

And even if they are adding modest number of employees, manufacturing companies sometimes struggle to find the skills they need.

Ross Hansen, whose Northwest Territorial Mint at Dayton projects a 15 percent increase in its sales of custom coins, medallions and the like this year, says the company draws from a small pool of skilled workers when it seeks additions to its staff of 175.

"There is not the manufacturing infrastructure in place," Hansen says. "We have to do a lot of training."

Even so, the company has been installing new equipment to increase the output as well as the quality of medallions produced at the Lyon County plant, and Hansen says it has the capacity to aggressively bid for work against competitors who moved manufacturing offshore.

Job losses in manufacturing seldom get much publicity.

An exception came last summer, when United States Gypsum closed its wallboard plant at Empire in northern Washoe County with the loss of 93 jobs.

But much of the job losses have come in smaller pieces. In November, for instance, all of the computer and electronic product manufacturing companies across Nevada trimmed their collective workforce by a total of 200 jobs, say economists for the state employment department.

Manufacturers News, an Evanston, Ill, publication that closely tracks manufacturing employment, estimates that Reno is home to 9,083 factory jobs a figure that's down by 5 percent in the past year.

Sparks is home to 4,362 manufacturing jobs, the publication says. That's down by 2.4 percent from a year ago.

Carson City runs counter to the trend, with a 3.6 percent increase in manufacturing employment in the past year, an increase that boosts the number of jobs in the sector to 3,322.


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