In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Whose Recovery Is It?
DocumentWhose Recovery Is It?
DocumentPart one
Document Part two
DocumentPart three
Document Part four
Document Part five
DocumentPain in the public sector
DocumentThe politics of economics
DocumentVoices from the recovery
DocumentNotebook: Recovery is in the eye of the beholder
AudioMidday: Roundtable on the recovery
Respond to this story

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Part 3: "A whole lot better than it was a year ago"
Larger view
John Gislason, a mechanic at Commercial Truck and Trailer Repair in Roseville, had his wage freeze lifted this summer. The company now needs him to work as much overtime as he can. (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
Lately, there's a whiff of recovery in an unexpected place. Starting in 2001, the state's manufacturing industry shed jobs for three straight years. Then, this March, the minus signs disappeared. The sector was growing again.

Fridley, Minn. — On the factory floor of E.J. Ajax and Sons in Fridley, machines stamp out steel hinges, brackets -- even obscure products like doors for fire extinguisher cabinets, which have to come from somewhere. Erick Ajax runs the business along with his brother.

Larger view
Image Erick Ajax: "Very optimistic"

"Business is booming," he says. "Business is better now that it has been at any time in the past five years. We're very, very optimistic."

Ajax's enthusiasm is qualified. The prices of steel and oil are soaring, partly because of demand from China's burgeoning economy. At the same time, competition from cheaper Chinese goods keeps him from resting easy. All the same, Ajax is growing his 30-person plant, adding five employees in the past six months -- the first new workers in years.

Ajax is a founding member of the Minnesota Manufacturing Coalition. A number of other members visited his plant for a recent meeting, including Bob Baldauff and Terry Kalvestran from Minneapolis-based steel tubing company Metal-Matic.

"While we have added some jobs, and we've added to our total revenue, profits are very, very slim," says Baldauff. "It's a whole lot better than it was a year ago. It could get better, though."

"I've always been an optimist," adds Kalvestran, "and I believe it's really going to look good."

Larger view
Image After four years, more jobs

Minnesota manufacturing jobs are still down more than 11 percent from their peak in 2000, and may never reach those levels again. But a recent survey shows most Minnesota manufacturers expect hiring, production, and profits to rise in the second half of the year.

When manufacturers and other companies see more activity, so do the semi-trucks that move their goods around.

And the guys who fix the trucks -- guys like John Gislason, a service technician for Commercial Truck and Trailer Repair in Roseville.

"Some of the bigger companies that we do bid work for, they might have laid off a couple trucks, they might not have been running as hard," he says. "Now we're back to the situation where they're running everything all the time. So they bring it in at five, six o'clock in the evening and they need to be ready to roll the next morning. That's one of the reasons why we need to add staff."

Larger view
Image John Gislason and the bustling garage

After September 11, Gislason and the other mechanics here in Roseville faced a wage freeze as the company went into the red, and the company put a hiring freeze in place as well. Then, six months ago, business jumped and profits came back. Just this summer, the wage freeze was lifted.

Not only did Gislason get a raise, but he now works about 10 hours of overtime a week. The garage can't hire enough mechanics to keep up with the work.

Gislason's boss says young people are looking for jobs where they don't have to "get greasy." Similarly, a refrigerated trucking company in Eagan says it can't find enough candidates willing to drive long-haul routes. Some manufacturers say now that they're ready to hire, they can't find enough interested and qualified job-seekers.

Part 4: "A recovery? Ha ha"

News Headlines
Related Subjects