Buffalo Wire Works 143-year-old manufacturer of screens for sifting -- has enjoyed four years of consecutive robust sales.
"We are booming in Buffalo," said Joe Abramo, the company's CEO. "We've experienced significant growth. We can't find enough people to fill jobs. It's a beautiful problem to have, though."
The Clinton Street company currently has 120 employees, opened a West Coast plant in Nevada two years ago, acquired all the assets from a Winnipeg screen company last year, and is planning a third location in Texas for this year. Buffalo Wire's customers are from all over the country and the world, including the companies currently working on the Panama Canal widening project.
"We are growing nicely all over Latin America," Abramo said. "There's a lot of production and mining going on there, and we have sales people in those countries who directly sell for us."
A relic from the city's industrial glory days, Buffalo Wire Works has dodged the fate of many area manufacturers by making a widely used product -- woven mesh for screens used for sifting and sizing in various industries, from pharmaceuticals to flour mills to gravel quarries.
"No matter what happens with the economy, people still need to eat, roads still need to be built," said Abramo. "So screens will still be needed."
And today, the company is thriving because of its approach to automating manufacturing and its custom service. It also has expanded its line of screens. The past two years, Buffalo Wire's sales increased between 21 to 23 percent. So far, this year sales are up 26 percent, Abramo said.
"Automation has been the key," said Erich Steadman, vice president of technology. "Through automation we can sell at very competitive prices, and that's why everybody's buying from us. We make a very nice product at a lower cost, so we are grabbing market share."
Buffalo Wire Works was founded in 1869 by Martin Scheeler Sr. It began as a wire cloth operation. It was run by the Scheeler family for five generations until Abramo bought it in 2003. Abramo joined the company 12 years ago and has 30 years of manufacturing experience, inCcluding stints with Eastman Machine Company, Raytheon and General Electric Aircraft Engine Group.
"When I bought the company the goal was to grow the business, and that's what we're doing," he said. His focus has been personnel development and innovating manufacturing technology.
Historically, the company primarily produced square mesh, but stiff competition from Chinese manufacturers galvanized Buffalo Wire Works to find a niche.
"A lot of the stuff we used to make we could not make competitively anymore because of the Chinese," Abramo said. "It encouraged us to invest in high-tech screens, automate and move to custom products."
Today, Buffalo Wire's product line is comprehensive, including synthetic and PFX screens, mesh that vibrates to prevent clogging. In the past two years, more than $5 million has been invested in improvements to its 150,000-square-foot plant, equipment and staff.
Abramo said the company's aggressive recruitment of dedicated and skilled employees is also a key to the company's success. The company has hired a crop of international engineers, including Spanish-speaking engineers to better reach the Latin American market.
"We're doing really well because we are recruiting great people who are executing, and we are investing," he said. "We are making money and pouring money back into the business."
The company is also investing in the community. It recruits from the inner city, has established a relationship with the University at Buffalo and recently added four more UB engineers with graduate degrees to its workforce. It also has created an apprenticeship program with Erie Community College that teaches how to read blueprints, shop math and other skills. Twelve Buffalo Wire Works employees are working on their associate degrees, paid for by the company and ECC.
Buffalo Wire Works also outsources with local companies for supplies.
"We're making all the right moves in Buffalo," Abramo said.
The company faces one problem: It has about 30 job openings but can't find qualified candidates, he said. Wages range from $12 to $28 an hour with benefits.
Abramo said a lot of positions, such as machine operators and technical inside sales, require technical skills and/or aptitude and basic educational skills. Buffalo Wire Works' list of openings include mechanical engineers and material handlers.
Abramo said with the company's successful push into Latin American markets and Europe, it's on its way to becoming an international company. As it expands, the commitment to the area remains.
"We really want to grow in Buffalo," he said. "We are committed to investing in the community."