Manufacturers growing out of downturn

Chris Wilkerson

Deputy Editor- Tampa Bay Business Journal

Two Tampa Bay manufacturers have seen market indicators this year that have them in growth mode and both are expanding to meet new demand.

Consolidation is driving gains at MF Lightwave, while diversification is the strategy propelling growth at IC Mechanical. Although their approaches are distinct, their goals are the same: find market opportunities to add workers, space and revenue.MF Lightwave saw an opportunity to significantly improve the company’s capacity to meet the high demands of the growing telecommunication industry and bought Tampa’s Custom Cable Industries this fall.

The acquisition more than tripled the size of the company and gave company president Stewart Saad some much needed space and expertise. “We were out of capacity at MF Lightwave,” he said. “It gives us some scale and a lot of resources that would have taken years to assemble.”

Saad moved his company from a packed-out 11,000-square-foot plant near the Florida State Fairgrounds to a 37,600-square-foot building just three miles down the road. “We tripled our capacity,” he said.

MF Lightwave did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but Saad said he had been watching Custom Cable Industries since he took over at MF Lightwave. “I’ve been circling them for two years,” he said.

Diversifying product lines

In Oldsmar, IC Mechanical is rocketing out of a slow spell during the downturn by diversifying the company and building a new 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and retail showroom to give customers a closer look at everything the company does.

Five years ago, ICM was a strong, growing company with 35 engineers and craftspeople and revenue near $12 million a year specializing in clean rooms. The downturn did a lot of damage to the company’s customer base. By 2009, the company had cut half of its employees and was making one-sixth of those revenues.

Company President Tom Szikszay set out to diversify ICM by reacting to what he saw would be the most in-demand products and services as the building industry rebounded from the recession. The result is five companies under one roof with an emphasis on energy efficiency solutions and creating safe workspaces for their customers.

“We want to be a pioneer in our industry in showing the safety features of our products,” Szikszay said.

The 17-year-old company had a track record of bringing work in-house. Soon after Szikszay started, he brought in the engineers. His most recent consolidation was in sheet metal.

“We were purchasing a lot of sheet metal,” he said. He started Alloy Fabricators Inc. this year with a goal of taking specialty orders when the new facility is operational this spring. The sheet metal shop will support the company’s needs and it will be able to produce special orders for clients, he said.

The company also started other companies that will operate from the new headquarters. ICM started Energy Efficient Solutions during the downturn to respond to market trends that demanded verifiable return on investment.

“It is difficult to grow just one avenue,” he said of his company’s diversification. “We’re building a new building so that we can show people what can be done with our products.”

Company leaders at ICM all said marketing poses the biggest challenge for the company going forward – how best to get their product in front of new customers.

“We never had to do marketing before the recession hit,” Szikszay said. Now they have hired a full-time marketing director.

Just getting started

Saad is more reserved about his marketing.

Much of his competition concentrates on different sectors of the telecommunications market. He is not reserved about his company’s ambition – “We’re shooting to do over $20 million next year,” in revenue, he said. The company grew revenues by about 160 percent in 2011.

He is confident the people he took on in the acquisition bring huge value to the company. Saad had 41 at MF Lightwave before the purchase. The company is now 153 strong.

The future for telecom cabling is strong. “It hasn’t even really started yet,” Saad said. “The wireless component of wireless communication is only the last three miles. Now that bandwidth is almost exhausted, there is greater need for cables.”

MF Lightwave moved into its new plant this month on Cherry Palm Drive.

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