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Riding the economy’s ebb and flow

Staff writer

For four years, Marion Manufacturing floor manager Dave Richmond went through the same agonizing routine. He would bring in hardworking employees for three months during the company’s busy period and then send them back to unemployment when business slowed.

Like most businesses, Marion Manufacturing was struck by the floundering economy.

The price of real estate hit rock bottom, and construction companies were not receiving contracts for homes and buildings. That trickled down to companies that manufactured materials, and those losses were transferred to Marion Manufacturing, which makes the machines that shape those materials.

Marion Manufacturing kept enough contracts to limit layoffs to two employees and it continued to employ them during their busy period, late fall and winter. The company was able to keep up demand by customizing machines to the specifications of a client, even though it was a long process.

According to Richmond, patience was an important virtue. A roll-form machine is an expensive piece of equipment that may require a decade’s worth of financial planning.

Marion Manufacturing salesman have given quotes to companies six years consecutively without the client even hinting at a purchase.

“It would have been easy to bend to frustration, and throw out ultimatum,” Richmond said. “We needed to resist that urge. The seventh or eighth time might be the charm. The customer may have gotten the loan needed to buy for the machine, or finally put together enough money to make a commitment.”

That may have been what has happened this year. Unlike in previous years orders did not stop in May. They continued to fly in at the same rate. This good fortune allowed the company to hire two new assembly line workers and hire back machine operators who were laid off.

The employees were happy to have their full-time jobs back, but Richmond also was happy the qualified workers were still in Marion.

Four years is long time to have a financial situation in limbo.

Richmond said there were not many opportunities for his two employees to use their machinist abilities. When faced with uncertainty without opportunity in Marion or uncertainty with a larger market of jobs in Newton, McPherson, or Wichita, loyalties can be questioned.

But, those employees stuck around. One of them painted houses in the summer. Marion Manufacturing tried to work with both of them, not giving them too many hours to obstruct unemployment benefits.

For now, there is a happy ending at Marion Manufacturing for employer and employees, both receiving earned prosperity.

However, Richmond is wary. Marion Manufacturing was the voodoo doll in the angry hands of the shaman, pin pricked repeatedly by a vengeful economy.

One thought is that the economy is improving; more people are building again, driving up the demand for machines. Another thought is that those long dormant quotes are being fulfilled in a sudden windfall with several companies coincidentally budgeting for machines in the same year.

If the second thought proves true, Marion Manufacturing will be in the same straits the next year. And Dave Richmond is not looking forward to telling any of his employees that they’ll be out of a job.

Last modified Aug. 1, 2012

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