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Manufacturing in Armstrong County on upswing

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
BRIGID BEATTY I LEADER TIMES Sloan Brothers Lubrication Systems, located in South Buffalo, was one of the companies within the manufacturing sector in Armstrong County that has expanded in areas of development and job growth within the last year.

Contrary to what some might think, manufacturing in Armstrong County is not dead.

In fact, it's alive and well and growing, according to economic development data tracked over the past five years by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA).

“A common perception is that manufacturing (in southwestern Pennsylvania) is going away,” said Dewitt Peart, PRA president.

However, Peart noted that data gathered, especially from the past year, shows many existing companies in the region have expanded despite the overall tough economy experienced by many across the country and have actually come out on top in areas of economic development deals or “wins”

“When you look across the region, manufacturing has been a top performer with 59 wins across the region,” Peart said.

In early April, PRA Partnership recognized top performing industries within the Pittsburgh region.

Armstrong County showed a solid performance in 2012 in terms of job growth and expansion within high-wage industries, said Philip Cynar, PRA's senior communications specialist.

Michael Coonley, executive director of the Armstrong County Department of Economic Development, noted that new companies are not necessarily bringing in 1,000 employees, but are expanding by 20 or 30 new hires.

Among those earning a winning scorecard in the manufacturing sector were Flir Systems Inc. in South Buffalo; Belle Flex Technologies in Ford City; and Sloan Brothers Lubrication Systems in South Buffalo.

Walter Sloan, president of Sloan Brothers Lubrication Systems, said during a conference call, that Coonley was instrumental in bringing his company to the county.

“Armstrong County is really, really close (to Pittsburgh) and is just a hop, skip and a jump up Route 28,” said Sloan, adding that his company, which moved to the area from Oakmont, Allegheny County, hired seven new employees this past year.

“The partnerships we've been able to establish in the area have been fantastic,” he said.

Those partnerships have allowed the company to increase its manufacturing output in the region from 25 to 75 percent, said C.J. Sloan, the company's information technology and programming specialist.

In the past, Sloan Brothers outsourced much of its manufacturing, said C.J. Sloan.

“Now, we're bringing manufacturing in house and partnering with others to fabricate items,” he said.

Peart said part of the strength of the region is its diversified economy which creates a supply chain for major corporations.

BelleFlex Technologies, a subsidiary of Blair Strip Steel Co., recently purchased a Ford City location (in the Ford City Heritage Industrial and Technology Park) because it had outgrown its space, Coonley said.

Three years ago there was just a single person and now there are 27 employees — all local hires, Coonley said.

The company is noteworthy, said Coonley, because it competed internationally and was recently awarded a subcontract through Boeing to manufacture springs for the docking system on the International Space Station.

According to the 2012 regional progress report provided by PRA, BelleFlex, Inc. has invested $2 million in Armstrong County.

Flir Systems, which makes infrared and night vision products for commercial and military use, invested $2.2 million in the county and added 15 new employees in 2012.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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