Joist maker boosts Fallon's economy

The re-opening of a formerly shuttered joist manufacturing plant in Fallon already has added 58 jobs in Churchill County, and employment at the New Millennium Building Systems facility could triple once the plant is running at full capacity.

That employment growth could take a big bite out of the jobless rate in Churchill County, where the state government estimates that 1,450 workers are looking for employment. The unemployment rate in the county is estimated at 11.5 percent.

New Millennium Building Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Steel Dynamics Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind., purchased the plant when it bought the assets of seven Commercial Metals Company plants this spring. New Millennium dismantled joist-making plants in Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Florida to reduce the amount of inventory manufactured in those markets.

New Millennium's primary goal in buying the Fallon plant was to extend the company's reach into western regions, with a particular eye on national customers that are expanding and building new stores that use New Millennium's big steel joist assemblies.

New Millennium General Manager Chris Graham says the Fallon plant can serve the entire western region and even parts of western Canada.

"First and foremost was the location," he says. "It could have been the greatest plant in the world, but if it was located on the east side of the country the industry didn't need it. This location allows us to mostly get into national initiatives. The Walmarts and Kroger's and Auto Zones, they are a small part of what we do, but they are an integral part. If we want to grow share, we have to be in that national account business.

"The further you go, the more squeeze there is on your profit margins, but it's not as if there is a joist company on every corner," Graham adds. "You have to be built to handle big geographies."

Nationwide production of joists - the kind that span the roofs of the massive distribution warehouses at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center - is off 70 percent from 2007. Historically, Graham says, there were between 1 and 1.2 million tons of steel joists used annually. Today that number is about 400,000 to 500,000.

"There was such a long string of commercial construction that continued for 25 or even 30 years," Graham said during New Millennium's official ribbon cutting late last month. "It has just hugely contracted, and it is not going to change overnight."

The Fallon joist plant can produce close to 60,000 tons annually with a single shift, although the company would have to increase employment to around 200 workers. Production currently is meeting demand with one fabrication line and one crew. Populating the plant's two additional lines would take about 22 workers per line, Graham says.

Just over half the current staff members are involved in fabrication and welding; the rest are employed in sales, structural engineering, architectural drafting, finance and office support positions.

Shop workers have spent much of the past few months re-tooling production lines with better equipment brought in from the South Carolina location.

New Millennium began producing small orders at the Fallon facility in the first quarter. Much of the steel used at the Fallon operation comes from a Steel Dynamics mill in Virginia. Addition steel is purchased from mills in Arizona and Texas.

In addition to large roof joists, the company also makes smaller joists that span the floors of multi-story buildings. Though the company does not make steel decking, it has partnered with Wheeling Corrugating, located less than a quarter-mile from New Millennium's site on Woolery Way, to provide customers with a complete joist-and-deck package.

Success of the new plant, expected to ship between 24,000 and 28,000 tons of joists per year beginning in 2012, depends on how quickly New Millennium can penetrate the new market opportunities opened up by the acquisition of the Fallon plant, as well as by building the company's brand and reputation.

"Joists are a small part of the overall construction project, but they can stop a job from progressing," Graham says. "We have to develop a reputation of on-time delivery and customer-centric service. There are options out there for customers, and we are going to have to earn those opportunities."


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