Made Here: Logan company builds rods, tubes for top-selling trucks

If you drive a stick-shift Jeep Wrangler, the device you use to change gears is made at a factory in Logan.

That is one of hundreds of parts made by Amanda Manufacturing, an auto-parts supplier whose sales are soaring along with U.S. demand for trucks.

Many of the parts are rods or tubes that are cut and formed for use all over cars and trucks, including a truck’s rear hitch and the metal loop that acts as a catch for a door latch.

“We take on the tough stuff,” said Mike Hood, the vice president for manufacturing, on a recent tour.

His statement has a double meaning, referring both to the strength of the parts and to the difficulty of the engineering that often goes into their design.

The company has about 250 employees and is hiring. Employees in the factory, members of the United Auto Workers union, receive base pay plus bonuses that are based on the number of parts made.

The factory floor smells like metal and is animated with the sounds of clanks and hisses from gigantic presses. Some of the machines are more than 50 years old, continually retooled to make today’s parts.

Amanda Manufacturing started in 1953 in Amanda, Ohio, in Fairfield County, and was known for most of its life as Amanda Bent Bolt Co. It was purchased in 1978 by investors from the Detroit area, a group that has evolved to become a portfolio of auto-industry businesses called Deshler Group.

Soon after the purchase, Amanda Manufacturing moved down Rt. 33 to Logan, first to a temporary space downtown and then to the current factory.

Following an expansion completed last month, the complex is about 200,000 square feet.

“We have big plans for this,” Hood said, standing at the edge of the new, 55,000-square-foot wing. It was an empty space that day, with shiny concrete. His plans are to move equipment from other parts of the plant there and restore some of the wide walkways that have become cramped as the amount of work outgrew the space.

Hood was manager of a grocery store in Logan before coming to Amanda Manufacturing. In the 21 years since, he has worked his way up to become plant manager and now also supervises manufacturing that the parent company’s other plants.

It is a good time to be in the auto-parts business, especially the truck side. The country had record sales of cars and light trucks last year, led by a strong performance by pickups, SUVs and crossovers. Some of the top selling models get parts from Amanda, including the longtime leader, the Ford F-Series pickups. Ford accounts for more than half of Amanda’s sales.

And there are indications that the sales growth will continue for a while, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.

“If you look at pickup-truck sales, they correlate with housing starts and construction,” she said. “What’s been interesting this time is that trucks are actually ahead of housing starts. That suggests that there is still room to grow for trucks.”

Along those lines, many businesses have have waited to replace their pickups, leading the an average vehicle age that is unusually high. “That suggests to us that there is still pent-up demand in the truck market, as well as the car market,” Krebs said.

So times are good, and are likely to continue to that way, for Amanda.

But the recent economic downturn remains fresh in the memories of company management. The nation’s vehicle sales slowed to the point that major automakers were idling factories, and General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. Amanda idled many of its lines and laid off workers, falling to a head count of about 50.

The recession was there to greet Robert Gruschow when he was promoted to president of the Deshler Group in 2009. He was filling a position that had long been held by his father, one of the original investors in the company.

“We had an extreme reduction in sales, as everyone did,” he said. “One of my first tasks was how to structure the company to get through the downturn.”

Amanda is the largest of the Deshler Group’s seven businesses, accounting for about half its sales. The other businesses do assembly, packaging and provide information-technology services, among others. The home office is in Livonia, Mich., near Detroit.

Gruschow says he is confident that there is a long-term market for the types of parts made at Amanda. This is despite the pace of change in the industry, with upstarts such as Tesla Motors threatening to change the fundamentals of the business.

“Every Tesla needs a hood striker,” he said, referring the metal part that connects with a hood latch. His company makes hood strikers, although not for Tesla. “You’re still going to need certain metal-formed components no matter where the industry goes.”

From The Columbus Dispatch  |  March 13, 2016