Area manufacturers expect growth in sales, employment

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal

Bob Mernickle hasn't experienced a down year through the recession, and he's expecting sales to continue trending upward this year at his holster-manufacturing company in Fallon.

And if consumers decide to start spending a little more on non-essentials, this could be a very good year indeed, says the owner of Mernickle Holsters.

While the outlook for manufacturing companies in northern Nevada varies widely - much depends, as always, on the markets that a manufacturer serves - most manufacturing executives expect to see at least modest recovery this year.

At last count, about 19,000 people held manufacturing jobs in northern Nevada, a 20 percent decline from the manufacturing employment of about 23,800 in the region in early 2007.

But a few of those jobs may be coming back, however slowly.

Jodie Andersen, president and chief executive of JoDog Sport Inc. in Reno, for instance, says she plans to add two folks to the staff of the company, which develops and distributes vehicle safety products. New employers, too, are likely to account for some growth in manufacturing.

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada is talking with seven to 10 manufacturing companies that it considers good prospects to land in the region during 2011, says Stan Thomas, EDAWN's vice president of business development.

Those companies cover a wide range of industries, although Thomas says that foods companies and aerospace manufacturers are more common than they have been in the past.

Political uncertainty in California after the election of Jerry Brown as governor could bring more manufacturers to northern Nevada.

"I received two calls from companies after the election, and I had a visit from one of them the next week," Thomas says.

But political uncertainty in Nevada - particularly if taxes on businesses cover the state's big budget deficit - could slow moves by manufacturers.

"We definitely must maintain our competitive advantage," says Thomas.

Rob Hooper, executive director of Northern Nevada Development Authority in Carson City, says his group is targeting manufacturers with nine to 99 employees who create added-value in Nevada but ship their products elsewhere.

"That's where all the job growth is," he says.

Among the factors attracting those companies, Hooper says, is the availability of a skilled manufacturing workforce.

But much depends on the sector that an individual manufacturer serves, says Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association.

"It's coming back reasonably well in some sectors, but it's not worth a damn in others," he says.

Suppliers to the gaming industry, ranging from giant International Game Technology in Reno to small companies that slice vegetables for casino kitchens, are beginning to see signs for recovery, Bacon says.

A second major segment of the state's manufacturing sector - building-materials manufacturing - remains down and is likely to stay that way, he says.

Companies in a third big segment, Nevada-based suppliers of parts or sub-assemblies to California manufacturers, are about as strong - or weak - as the markets they serve.

Tom Dublin, president of the Illinois company that publishes Manufacturers Directory, says employment at Nevada manufacturers appear to be stabilizing.

"The state's investment in green technologies should help improve the outlook," Dublin says.

Individual manufacturers often are able to catch breezes that travel only through their narrow niches.

Mernickle, for instance, says orders for the concealed-weapons holsters made by his company's seven employees remained strong, getting a boost after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

"There were a lot of people who worried about what was going to happen, so people were looking at protecting themselves as well as their families," the holster-maker says.

Now he's hoping for an additional boost from custom-made holsters for fans of Western quick draw as consumers regain their confidence.

"Things have settled down a little," Mernickle says. "We see more growth ahead."

Wisdom Audio in Carson City, meanwhile, spent much of the past couple of years building an international reputation for its high-end, in-wall loudspeaker systems.

"As we can capture the market position as the best of class, we're able to expand our distribution channels," says President Mark Glazier. It's working.

Wisdom Audio more than doubled its sales during 2010 and expects to continue the rapid growth as it opens new markets such as the Czech Republic during 2011.

Among the strongest markets for the speakers manufactured by the company's 10 employees in Carson City: China, where consumers give high marks to Wisdom Audio's technology and craftsmanship.

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