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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

Tiffin firm rebounds from forced shutdown

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jeff Gaietto, in short sleeves, left, a machine-builder with National Machinery LLC in Tiffin, shows a machine's operation. The manufacturer has rebounded from its near-demise. Jeff Gaietto, in short sleeves, left, a machine-builder with National Machinery LLC in Tiffin, shows a machine's operation. The manufacturer has rebounded from its near-demise.
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TIFFIN - In the main lobby of National Machinery LLC sits a gleaming black single-bolt cutter, a still-functional piece of equipment built at the Tiffin plant in 1919.

The company recently bought the machine, originally sold for $300, from its owner in Bucyrus, Ohio, and restored it as part of a display covering National's 130-year history.

"One of the important things about National machines is that they were built to last," said John Bolte, a senior vice president for the company.

A few years ago, however, it looked as though such vintage machines would outlast the company that produced them. Debt problems forced National Machinery to shut down in December, 2001, throwing 525 people out of work.

But an investment group led by Andrew Kalnow, a Tiffin native whose family owned the firm until 1998, acquired its assets in a buyout negotiated with banks holding more than $55 million in company debt.

Since then, the "new" National Machinery gradually has increased production and called some former employees back to work. The company has nearly 300 full-time employees, plus about 40 part-time and contract workers.

Mr. Kalnow estimates annual sales at $60 million, down from $90 million to $100 million about five years ago, when the company employed about 700. He declined to disclose the firm's net income, but said the company is making money and that sales have risen over 20 percent each of the past two years.

"It's a substantial rebound," he said. "We do not expect to be back to the heights of the late '90s, but we don't need to because we're profitable at this size ... I think it's working. We continue to be a leader in our business."

Starting yesterday and continuing today, National Machinery is hosting about 250 customers from across the United States and around the world at an open house at the Tiffin plant, which covers 600,000 square feet.

National, founded in 1873 in Cleveland, moved to Tiffin in 1882. The company designs, develops, and manufactures high-speed metal parts forming machines.

National also builds replacement parts, services machines, and trains equipment operators and maintenance workers for its customers. The company has sales and service offices in Nuremberg, Germany, and Nagoya, Japan.

Alejandro Olague, managing director of a Spanish firm that produces cold-forged bolts and other parts for the auto industry, said his company bought one of National's two-story tall FORMAX forging machines three years ago.

"It has been critical to the production of these technical parts," Mr. Olague said. "Working with National, we got the technical support to develop the machine we needed. Not only do they have know-how, but the service they provide the customer, so we are very pleased with them."

Company employees - some of whom returned to National after taking other jobs in 2002 - said they're pleased as well to be back at what appears to be a stable employer.

Doug Hoerig, a senior design engineer, worked at National from 1995 to 2001 and then returned in 2003. He said the company's return has been a big boost for Tiffin, which was hit in June with the layoff of 200 workers at American Standard.

"It's huge," Mr. Hoerig said. "With the problems that some of the other companies in town are having, it's important that National do well."

Tiffin Mayor Bernard Hohman said National's revival under the Kalnow family is good news for his city, though he said some former employees harbor hard feelings about the shutdown and downsizing that cost them their jobs.

"Not everybody got rehired, so some of them are pretty bitter about it," Mr. Hohman said. "I understand both sides. But I think it's good. The alternative of it being closed and bankrupt, or torn down or empty, is not an alternative as far as I'm concerned. It was something that had to be done."

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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