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Learning a new ritual:

John Seelmeyer

Steve Schmidt quickly is becoming an expert on halal, the slaughterhouse practices required by observant Muslims.

Schmidt’s company, Stead-based LeFiell Co., these days finds itself preparing proposals for halal slaughter facilities in Bangladesh, Kuwait, Iraq and New Jersey.

And the potential boom in exports comes just as LeFiell sees a solid recovery in its domestic business.

LeFiell’s core product, a prefabricated overhead rail system to move carcasses through a slaughterhouse, has dominated its industry since the 1920s.

The rail system and its automatic switches continue to lead the market, and LeFiell has ventured out to build other components of packing house operations as well.

But the meat packing industry, like others, pulled back its capital spending during the recession that began in late 2001, and LeFiell posted money-losing quarters.

“Sept.

11 was not a good time, but we survived it,” Schmidt says.

Orders began picking up earlier this year as meatpackers began building new facilities and retrofitting existing packing plants.

“The domestic business has been outstanding,” Schmidt says.

For the six months of the year, he says, the company netted a bit more than $100,000 on revenues of about $1.4 million entirely on the rebound in U.S.

business.

Then the requests for halal plants began arriving apparently drawn by the company’s Web site because LeFiell hadn’t actively marketed itself to suppliers of meat to Muslim customers.

The proposals don’t call merely for LeFiell to provide components.

Instead, the packing house operators want the Reno company to serve as a project manager, a role it’s sometimes undertaken with projects in the United States.

That’s led, in turn, for LeFiell to ally itself with a British company that’s a specialist in sheep-processing plants.

LeFiell’s expertise is in beef and although it’s anathema in Muslim nations pork.

It means, too, that Schmidt and the company’s employees are learning all they can about halal as quickly as they can.

Processing equipment, for instance,must be properly aligned toward Mecca.

Blood and its byproducts are viewed as a contaminant.

All animals must be killed in the name of Allah.

And so on.

“I’m not bored on a regular basis,” says Schmidt.

The return of international business is all the more welcome because LeFiell Co.

had seen a once-promising export business wither away in the past five years.

In 1999, the company was honored as the Governor’s Exporter of the Year in Nevada after its international business tripled in three years.

Since then, Schmidt says LaFiell’s export business has been limited to jobs in Canada and Mexico.

“There is no way we ever would have imagined receiving these four halal requests,” he says.

Then again, the company has seen its share of ups and downs since its predecessor company was founded nearly a century ago.

John’s Hanger Co.

was launched in San Francisco in 1910 to manufacture parlourdoor hangars.

Seven years later, it was purchased and renamed by A.

E.

LeFiell, who saw the possibilities of using parlour-door technology to the overhead transportation needs of San Francisco’s packing houses.

In 1961, the company was acquired by the Schmidt family, which had been manufacturing meat packing equipment in Cincinnati since 1996.

LeFiell Co.moved from San Francisco to Reno in 1994.

It currently employs about 20 in its office and manufacturing operations at Stead.