BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Two company leaders from one of Birmingham’s legacy industrialist families said more needs to be done to produce skilled workers and avoid foreign-made materials if manufacturers are going to survive a pending national crisis.
Charles DeBardeleben, president of Hardie-Tynes Co. Inc., and Whit DeBardeleben, chief executive of Steward Machine Co. Inc., told the Rotary Club of Birmingham today their businesses are enjoying success but, like other industrial and manufacturing companies, are dealing with major challenges.
Chief among them is the need for skilled workers like welders and machinists.
Whit said his company has put out adds offering to put workers through 72 hours of training at the end of which they will have a job making between $15 and $17 per hour. After dozens signed up, only a handful stuck it out to complete the training, he said.
He said it’s not just Steward Machine or Hardie-Tynes that is wrestling with this issue, adding it is becoming a “chronic problem for the state.”
Whit said Steward Machine is looking to expand one of its two Birmingham plants and its plant in Bainbridge, Ga., but he is concerned he may not have the workers to do so.
Another big issue, the DeBardeleben brothers noted, is the use of federal and, in some case local, taxpayer dollars being used on infrastructure projects that purchase foreign parts and materials.
Whit pointed to the $7.2 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project where the California Department of Transportation is using bridge spans produced in China for a reported savings of $400 million. The Alabama State Docks purchased cranes from China, he said.
The California bridge project is the kind of work Steward Machine would normally be involved with, but, Whit said, the “Buy American Act has been gutted” when it comes to such purchases.
He said the nation and the state are also needing to make major improvements and repairs of its infrastructure, particularly bridges, locks and dams.
But the DeBardeleben brothers didn’t dwell on the problems. Both spent time talking about the history and the current projects their companies are involved in.
Steward Machine, for instance, has been in business for more than 106 years and produces mammoth custom parts to low-tolerance specifications for movable bridges, locks and dams, and other industries.
In addition to its work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on locks and dams, Steward Machine has worked with some of the world’s largest manufacturers in steel, mining, automotive, piping, water, cement, pulp and paper, oil and power generation to make one-of-a-kind parts. The company even produced the drive mechanisms used on the retractable roof of Milwaukee’s Miller Park, where Major League Baseball’s Brewers play home games.
Hardie-Tynes was started in 1895 and purchased by the DeBardelebens in 1997. It produces machinery primarily for the coal mining industry and the U.S. Navy.
It’s Navy work includes products used in everything from the propulsion systems on aircraft carriers to gun turrets on gun ships and launch systems on destroyers.
But the company has also made parts used in New Orleans’ levee pump stations, replacement valves at the Hoover Dam and autoclaves for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet.
The two companies have a total of around 280 employees, the brothers said.
Charles said his family knows better than most that the nation’s economy can’t rely solely on professional and service-based jobs.
“I can not emphasize enough the importance of a strong manufacturing base in this country and especially in this state,” he said.The Birmingham News- March 7, 2012 by: Michael Tomberlin © 2012 al.com. All rights reserved.