As workers assemble the family-owned company’s hot-air fabric welders, used to manufacture everything from inflatable rafts to truck tarps, it’s hard to know the recession of 2007-2009 ever happened.
Ten clocks on the wall of the plant in Navarre, Ohio, show local time from Norway to New Zealand and tell Miller Weldmaster’s comeback story in a word: exports. Sixty percent of the company’s business now comes from outside the United States.
Manufacturing growth, surging exports: These are central promises of Obama’s reelection bid, especially in blue-collar industrial states that could determine the election.
Mindful of the Indiana surprise of 2008, when a spike in unemployment helped Obama win the reliably Republican state, the White House has every reason to fear payback in states like Ohio, this time from any deepening of Europe’s financial crisis.
Already there are warning signs. One in four of Miller Weldmaster’s machines is sold in Europe, and sales are down 5 percent so far this year. A further drop could force the company to consider layoffs.
“We’ve taken a sigh of relief – we’ve been over the crunch,” says Jeff Sponseller, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The chance that this could happen again brings a lot of anxiety.”
Other Ohio manufacturers share that concern. Royal Phillips Electronics, which exports X-ray machines from a 1,200-employee facility near Cleveland, warned in April that budget cuts and other austerity measures in Europe could hurt demand for its products. Glassmaker Owens-Illinois Inc, based in Perrysburg, said Europe’s volatility could hit its earnings as well.