Niles’ Modineer holding its own in down economyPublished 9:03am Tuesday, April 13, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
When U.S. Rep. Fred Upton paid a couple of visits to Niles two weeks ago, he acknowledged the struggles of the Michigan economy, specifically the automotive industry.
But he did point out a silver lining for the Niles community in Modineer Fabrication, a family-owned manufacturing business that has found a way to expand while other businesses flounder or close their doors.
Modineer is one of the top employers in Niles with 414 workers. In June of last year, the business employed 297 – evidence of the company’s recent success. The business also is in the top 50 of privately-held manufacturers in the state.
CEO Ed Hamilton said the acquisition of Wagon Automotive in July 2009 created about 74 new jobs. The company has also been able to hire a handful of former employees of Tyler Refrigeration, which closed its doors in Niles this past summer.
The company, which manufactures auto, defense and commercial parts, has grown due to the quality of its employees, according to Hamilton.
“Without sounding cliche, people are our greatest asset,” he said. “If I hire the smartest people, regardless of the obstacles that approach us – whether it’s the market dynamic, business falling off or business opportunities that are untapped – they will help me drive the bus down the easiest path.”
Due to the high unemployment rate in the region and across the state, Hamilton has been able to hire the best and brightest employees – workers he says have a great “entrepreneurial spirit.”
Modineer has also benefited from a slight rebound in the auto industry. U.S. auto sales increased 24 percent in March, including a 40 percent boost for Ford and 22 percent for General Motors – both of which Modineer services.
“Most of our automotive-related business is small car platform-based,” Hamilton said. “Volume has been consistent, even to the extent that the automotive division is working quite a bit of overtime.”
Hamilton is encouraged by the increase in auto sales and is optimistic it will continue.
“I certainly think the trend lines are moving upward across the board,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a blip.”
Another big reason for success, according to Hamilton, was “a strategic approach to move away from automotive and to spread our wings in military,” a move made in 2005 that has paid dividends with the fall of the auto industry in recent years.
Hamilton, who spent several years in the military in Iraq before coming to Modineer, was instrumental in developing the business plan to move the focus to the military division of the company.
In 2008, the company also started making inroads in commercial manufacturing, fabricating parts for companies like Caterpillar and John Deere.