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Wendt Corp. grinding out growth Sales of Tonawanda company's shredders driving more jobs, additional location

Amid all the downbeat economic news, consider Wendt Corp.'s story.

The Town of Tonawanda company makes automobile shredders, massive machines that grind up cars and other metal items into raw material for steel mills and other customers.

While many manufacturers are struggling, Wendt Corp. expects its sales will surpass $100 million this year, a record high. The company is preparing to expand into a second, much-larger location. And it plans to add several jobs to its 90-person work force.

But to the surprise of Thomas A. Wendt Sr., the chairman and founder, the company has had trouble filling positions, including for high-end jobs such as a senior electrical engineer and a senior design engineer.

"With all of the unemployment that I see on the news every single day, we can't hire people," Wendt said. "It's difficult."

Wendt Corp. is aiming to reach the 100-employee mark within a few months. While the company will remain in its Military Road home, it is under contract for a second, unidentified location in the area that is three times as large. The company hopes to start moving into the additional space by year's end.

Wendt Corp.'s growth is rooted in scrap metal and the world's appetite for recycling it and using it.

Depending on their size, Wendt Corp.'s shredders can process from 30 tons to 400 tons of metal per hour. One car is the rough equivalent of a ton, so the company's most powerful shredders can handle about 400 cars in one hour.

The company also produces the related equipment that make up a complete shredder plant, including separators that sort through the material. Wendt Corp.'s average shredder plants cost $5 million to $15 million.

The company's customers are mainly in North America. But Thomas A. Wendt Sr. and his son, Tom, who is the president, believe the 34-year-old business can make an even bigger mark.

"Our brand in North America is a brand that's recognized," Tom Wendt said. "And we're trying to make that brand an international brand."

One of its 6,000-horsepower shredders was recently installed in Brazil, and a 2,500-horsepower shredder will be installed in Spain.

"We're bringing in dollars to Buffalo from all over the world, and we're spending those dollars here in Buffalo, either on our labor, or on our material, or with our subcontractors, or with our parts providers," Tom Wendt said. "And I think it has a very positive effect on the local economy."

Wendt Corp. sells its equipment to steel mills that want to process their own material, as well to as scrap processors, who grind up metal collected at scrap yards.

In the case of steel mills, some of them want their own shredders to control their inventory of raw material, rather than rely on processors for their supply.

"If they don't have scrap to run, their furnaces go down, and that's really important to a steel mill," Thomas Wendt Sr. said.

The problem that scrap processors are facing, Tom Wendt said, is the availability of raw material, after the boom times of a few years ago, when prices hit an all-time high.

"Everybody had their garages cleaned out and their farms cleaned up and obsolete scrap was consumed," Tom Wendt said.

Scrap metal has worldwide appeal. In 2010, more than 19 million metric tons of ferrous scrap -- referring to scrap with iron content -- was exported from the United States to about 90 countries, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. The exported ferrous scrap was valued at more than $8 billion.

About $16.7 billion worth of nonferrous scrap, including aluminium, copper and lead, was exported from the United States last year.

Countries like China and India use scrap metal to fuel their increased industrialization. "That's what drives the price, the competition between the domestic mills and the international consumers," Tom Wendt said. "So scrap is truly a global commodity. It's traded on a world platform, and price is dictated by freight."

Plus, developing countries are generating more scrap metal to be shredded as their economies grow, he said. "All of those countries are all going to be generating a heck of a lot more scrap as they industrialize, so we're positioning ourselves to take advantage of those markets."

Wendt Corp. plays up its advanced technology to retrieve more nonferrous scrap, such as copper, which is in high demand, rather than allowing it to be shipped to a landfill among other waste.

"With copper prices being what they are, that creates a demand for our equipment," Thomas Wendt Sr. said.

Azcon Corp. in Alton, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis, installed a 4,000-horsepower Wendt Corp. shredder about two years ago. Wade Schoeneweis, the shredder manager, said he was impressed with Wendt Corp.'s technical knowledge, on top of its ability to produce a shredder.

Schoeneweis recalled attending a trade show in Los Angeles a few months ago where Wendt Corp. was exhibiting. "They had the most foot traffic, in my opinion, of all the shredder manufacturers."

Wendt Corp. expects to announce soon its second area location. At that new site, the company will set up a demonstration facility for its products, and will also bring back some work that the company had subcontracted out of New York state.

Tom Wendt said he is proud of the identity that Wendt Corp. has carved for itself in the market.

"It's a brand that kind of stands for a premium product at a premium price," he said. "If a guy's looking for an inexpensive machine, he knows not to call us."

email: mglynn@buffnews.com

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