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New owner to occupy idled Homer City plant

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 3:56 p.m.

HOMER CITY--A family-owned company based in Brookville has purchased the former FMC Technologies plant in Homer City, with plans to expand its industrial parts manufacturing business.

MWM Real Estate LP, a sister company of Brookville's Miller Welding & Machine Company, completed purchase of the 244,000-square-foot Homer City facility on June 29. The plant was largely idled in March after FMC transferred most of its Homer City operations to a facility in Mississippi.

The revived Homer City plant will be managed and operated by MGK Technologies, Inc., another affiliate of Miller Welding & Machine that is less than a year old and employs a half dozen workers in a facility leased from its sister company.

David K. Miller, president of both companies, said MGK will continue to operate at Brookville in addition to ramping up operations at the Homer City site.

"As we establish business there, we intend to hire new people," he said of the Homer City plant. "We don't know how quickly that will grow and what that's going to top off at."

But Miller said acquisition of the large facility puts his family in a good position for pursuing new clients in a variety of industries.

He noted the family's original company, Miller Welding & Machine, has grown from three employees when it was founded in 1963 by his father, David R., to more than 400 workers in two plants.

Shifting from an earlier focus on servicing the mining and steel industries, David K. Miller said the company now produces customized end-use parts for original equipment manufacturers in a variety of sectors, including the construction field.

He noted the current customer base includes clients in Florida and Milwaukee and along the East Coast.

"We've been busy in our business for the last two to three years," Miller said. "We felt that there was more business we could capture if we had the proper facility and people."

Adding to the company's interest in the Homer City plant was the fact that Miller Welding & Machine had been a vendor for that facility for more than 20 years and continues to perform work for other FMC operations around the country.

"We did a lot of business with the Homer City plant and we had a lot of interaction with the people there," he said.

"We believe there is great business potential for this facility to grow and prosper," Miller said. "Our economy is strong, our services in high demand, and the people in the community are highly skilled and motivated.

"We intend to fill this facility over time, in accordance with business conditions and customer demands."

Unlike its older sibling, which turns out parts for other companies, MGK Technologies makes some of its own products for the lumber industry, including sawdust blowers and lumber carts.

While Miller could not predict what particular types of products MGK will make at Homer City, he said he expects the company will increase its involvement in the business that has become Miller Welding's stock in trade, manufacturing parts for other companies.

"We intend to continue the growing of MGK Technologies by expanding both our current customer base and the services we offer," Miller said.

The Homer City plant purchase was welcome news for area officials--particularly for state Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), who announced the deal this week.

A native of Homer City, Reed previously served as a summer marketing intern with the local FMC plant. But he also noted his father was among the many former employees laid off as the company phased out its Homer City operations.

After watching operations at one of the town's major employers dwindle over the past decade, he said the acquisition of the plant by the Brookville firm should provide a much-needed economic boost.

He called it "a turning point in the future of Homer City--for the first time in years, there's a sense of hope for our workers and our community."

"FMC offered our community a stable foundation for a great many years," he added. "But in the last decade, an awful lot of folks were put through some pretty tough times--now we have a chance to start anew...."

Reed said he's pleased a new plant owner is in place after only a few months, and he credited community leaders in the public and private sectors for assisting in that turnaround.

"We've always tried to act as a unified team to help move our local economy forward," he said. "...Without a doubt, those efforts are paying off."

"This is a great step forward for Homer City," said the borough's manager, Rob Nymick. "We appreciated the timely transfer of ownership and are looking forward to assisting the Miller family with their endeavor to establish a thriving business in the community."

Indiana County Chamber of Commerce Chairman John J. Dolan said the organization and partners in the community are "set to ensure that the Miller family achieves all of its goals and objectives in terms of infrastructure, workforce development and all other business-related issues that will help the company grow and prosper" in Indiana County.

Chairman Rod Ruddock said the county commissioners are "extremely pleased for Indiana County, Homer City Borough, and Center Township, to welcome a top-of-the-line manufacturing company to the former FMC facility.... We excited about the opportunities which have been presented to us...and happy for those who will soon rejoin or enter out county workforce."

Ruddock pointed out that family-owned businesses tend to have a greater commitment to communities where they locate.

"This is job opportunity at its very best," he said of the new family ownership at the Homer City plant. He said local leaders need to "identify and draw attention to those job opportunities, so those young individuals in Indiana County who are looking for...skilled labor positions understand there is opportunity for them to be successful. They don't have to leave Indiana County; we have jobs for them."

State Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) was another member of the leadership team that sought a new owner for the Homer City plant.

He predicted that "Miller Welding will be a key edition to the economic revitalization in Indiana County" and a source of "family-sustaining jobs."

While FMC no longer owns the Homer City plant, 20 of its former employees have remained at the facility.

Those full-time and part-time workers are continuing to operate a former FMC-Syntron production line, turning out a variety of vibratory parts-handling equipment for a new company, Homer City Automation, Inc.

The latter company is owned by Michael Crouse, who operates another manufacturer of parts-handling equipment, Fortville Feeders, in Fortville, Ind., under the same holding company.

In April, Indiana County officials approved a 10-year, $100,000 loan from the county's revolving loan fund to help with the new company's acquisition of the FMC production line.

An agreement is in place for Homer City Automation to continue at the plant, leasing about 50,000 square feet from the new owner.

Jeff Cable, a 26-year FMC veteran who is now operating and engineering manager for the local parts-handling company, said the new Miller family ownership is "a good match that's good for both Homer City Automation and the community."

Miller could not cite a target date for his company's operations to commence at the Homer City plant. He indicated a couple months could be required to install needed manufacturing equipment.

"There may be some people employed in just the set-up of the equipment," he said. "We're starting to move some equipment in now. It's the type and size that will take some time."

Among the equipment needed will be computer-controlled cutting machines, press breaks and machine tools.

Miller said some of the equipment will be shifted from existing family-owned facilities in Brookville while other units will be newly purchased.

Miller noted running Miller Welding and its affiliated companies is a true family effort.

"My father founded Miller Welding and he still comes to work every day and has input," he said. He noted four of his five siblings also take part in the family business, "and we have five or six members of the next generation involved."

The Homer City facility that is being added to the Miller fold had its start in 1937, when Pittsburgh inventor Carl Weyandt moved his electronics manufacturing operation, the Syntron Company, there.

After being bought by Link-Belt Co., of Chicago, in 1955, the company merged with the FMC Corporation in 1967.

Employment at FMC plants in Homer City and Blairsville peaked at 838 employees in 1971. FMC had trimmed its local payroll to 350 employees by 2000 and reduced the workforce to just 70 last year before closing up shop at Homer City in March.

The former FMC plant in Blairsville was purchased by the Dlubak Corp. It produces specialty glass, including replacement bullet-proof windows that are used to enhance protection for U.S. troops riding in Humvee vehicles.

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