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Firms at former FMC plant on rebound from recession

| Sunday, June 10, 2012, 9:40 a.m.

HOMER CITY -- Just as a revitalization was on its way at the former FMC Technologies plant in Homer City, the recession struck.

That was a rough time for two tenants of that building, but they've managed to survive, and business is starting to bounce back, with a third company growing quickly as well.

Homer City Automation and MGK Technologies have been located at the 244,000-square-foot plant on Cooper Avenue since 2007, shortly after FMC transferred most of its operations to Mississippi.

One division of FMC remained at the plant and became Homer City Automation, a manufacturer of Syntron feeders and parts-handling equipment for production lines in the automotive, pharmaceutical, electronics, fastener and plastic industries, among others.

In the summer of 2007, a new owner was found for the 244,000-square-foot facility in MGK Technologies, a company that manufactures equipment for large industrial customers in the material handling, construction equipment and mining industries. The company is an affiliate of the Brookville-based family business Miller Welding & Machine Co.

The two companies have shared the facility since 2007, with Homer City Automation leasing about 50,000 square feet from MGK. In addition, FMC Technologies has moved back into the building -- albeit at a much smaller capacity with one division.

In March 2008, Stephanie DiLeo, a former accountant for FMC at the Homer City plant, purchased Homer City Automation.

"Just being here and working as the accountant, you could see the customers were still interested in purchasing the quality products that we manufacture," DiLeo said, "and with the employees and their skill level and their dedication to manufacturing, it was pretty easy and pretty evident that there was a (good) business here."

DiLeo said business was good through most of 2008, but then the economy fell into a recession during the latter parts of 2008 and early 2009.

The recession hit her company hard, DiLeo said, and it forced Homer City Automation to lay off some employees while others took pay cuts.

"Because of the knowledge and the dedication of the employees, they were willing to do whatever it took to help make the business survive," DiLeo said. "People were so dedicated to making it work. I guess we were dynamic enough to make changes in order to survive the downturn in the economy."

During the downturn, the company continued to attend trade shows to get its name and products known in the industry, and DiLeo also credited that with the business's turnaround.

"We're proud to report we survived," DiLeo said. "In 2010, we started to see a turnaround, and we're continuing to see that even at a higher pace in 2011. ... We're starting to see some relief, so we're hoping to grow faster than the economy just as people start to realize that we're here."

Homer City Automation now has about 24 employees, DiLeo said, which puts it a few workers above 2008 levels. The employees include mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, sales people and people with a "variety of manufacturing talents," DiLeo said, adding that her company is currently in the hiring phase.

MGK Technologies is also experiencing growth after suffering through the recession.

Plant manager Matthew Feight said the company's employee numbers -- including mostly welders -- are now in the high 40s after starting up in 2007 in the high 20s. During the recession, he said, the number of workers dropped to as low as 10 people.

"We got hit pretty hard," Feight said. "There were a lot of days where there wasn't a whole lot going on, but we've come back pretty strong."

Feight said one of the things that helped the company through the recession was being able to lease storage space to the Homer City power plant as well as lease office and shop space to a familiar tenant -- FMC Technologies. The company's Surface Wellhead Division now operates out of the facility.

That division installs wellhead equipment and troubleshoots and maintains pressure control devices for the natural gas industry.

Division Base Manager Jack Hancock said the company moved into the Homer City facility about two years ago and has grown to 20 employees after starting with just four.

Hancock attributed the jump to Marcellus Shale drilling.

Having MGK and FMC in the same building has been beneficial for both companies as MGK builds certain equipment for FMC, which leases about 8,000 square feet in the building.

"We have a good working relationship," Hancock noted.

All three companies share manufacturing space while they each have their own office space.

While business seems to be improving for all three companies, there's an opportunity for even more growth in the building.

Feight said there's still about 18,000 square feet of office space available for other interested tenants.

While business has not always been smooth because of the recession, MGK President Dave Miller has been pleased with his company's progress since moving in. While the company has offices in Brookville, the Homer City plant is the only location where manufacturing actually takes place.

"We said when we went into this, we were building a new business down there, and it was going to take some time to build," Miller said. "I think we're pretty much on track with what we would've expected."

Dave Miller is one of several members of the Miller family involved in management for MGK. Feight said having a family business in charge at the plant is a benefit.

"It gives everybody the safety factor that they're going to make sure business works," he said, "because in a lot of ways, the whole family relies on it."

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