JWF Industries

JWF Industries welder Dan Miles works in the fabrication area with robotic welding on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the Johnstown plant.

Manufacturing is one of the major industries in the state that hasn't been mandated to shut down because of coronavirus public health concerns.

Cambria County manufacturing companies said business is consistent, but they will have an eye on the pandemic's impact on supply chain conditions for months ahead.

Cambria's manufacturing industry employs more than 4,100 people and makes up more than 8% of employment countywide, according to January 2020 statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Olympic Steel account manager Larry Butka regularly supplies steel to about a half-dozen to a dozen manufacturers in Cambria County.

Butka's company is based in Ohio and takes steel sheets and plates from mills, cuts them to special sizes, then supplies them to manufacturers that use the steel to make products.

"I personally have not run into this, yet but my counterparts have accounts that are buying steel just like we are buying toilet paper," Butka said. "Everything they do revolves around steel. They don't want to have a lull because they don't have material."

For example, he said, as the pandemic increases online shopping, FedEx and Amazon could need increased orders from manufacturers of parts for machinery in distribution centers.

Butka isn't seeing supply-chain panic in his territory which includes Cambria County, but he is fielding questions on the topic.

"For the most part, manufacturers are still status quo – producing, delivering, shipping – as of now that's going normal," he said. "The big thing I'm seeing is I'm fielding more calls regarding supply chain. Some companies out there, they have to have metal – if not, they shut down.

"They ask me, 'what are you doing to keep us in material?,'" he said. "My company has 32 locations, and in all our locations we have redundancies or similar product. So, if our facility in Ohio would get quarantined, I can pull material from another facility."

JWF: 'Business as usual'

One of the region's largest companies, Johnstown Welding and Fabrication of Johnstown, stopped all travel last week, Bill Polacek, president and CEO of JWF Industries, said.

JWF's steel suppliers are are not allowed to come to the company's gate, he said.

An employer of 440 people, JWF is taking precautions by doing all office work by phone and video conference. Its in-house welding classes have also been postponed "until we see where all this ends," Polacek said.

But all employees – including welders and machinists – are working, he said.

The company builds framework and other components for heavy equipment serving about a dozen industries.

About 70 percent of the company's accounts are with the defense industry, and the coronavirus hasn't slowed that down, Polacek said.

However, he anticipates slowdowns in other accounts including ones in the airline industry. Travel bans to contain the coronavirus have damaged airlines which have signaled for government bailouts.

Oil and natural gas industry accounts may also take a hit, Polacek said.

"When you have the whole world holding back and everybody not moving, it will take a while to rebound," he said.

JWF also has accounts with the chemical industry.

"We have plenty of business," he said. "The defense industry is the biggest piece of our business, and its a good place to be. We have everybody working, so it's business as usual here, but if someone is sick we say 'stay home.'"

Attitudes 'good' at GapVax

There's been no slowdown of activity in the short term for GapVax in Johnstown. The company manufactures industrial vacuum trucks and sewage trucks, and it also has a service facility in Texas.

The company has orders for trucks through 2021, said human resources specialist Deborah Cover.

All 125 GapVax employees are at work and only a couple people called off for sickness or to care for their children who are home from school because of the outbreak, she said.

"We are definitely stressing to employees that if they feel sick, to stay home," she said. "I think attitudes are good."

The company has seen a slight increase in demand for the company's line of truck accessories, hoses and replacement parts, which may be linked to customers stockpiling in preparation for further coronavirus disruption, Cover said. She stressed it's only been a slight change.

But In the long term or months from today, Cover said, the company has concerns about relying on outside sources for ordering steel and parts.

"A lot of manufacturers are looking for the same products, the same way people are looking for the same things in grocery stores," she said. "We are purchasing steel and we are trying not to order things that are not necessary."

If supply is disrupted months from now, the company has the capability to fabricate parts in-house.

"There are things we purchase now that we have fabricated in the past, so that is a positive," Cover said.

Hoganas holding steady

Officials of North American Hoganas High Alloys LLC, a manufacturer of powdered metal products for the automobile industry, also said orders are consistent and supply is currently reliable.

"We'll see what the future holds," Vice President of Human Resources Dave Hamaty said.

Across the United States, the company has 380 employees.

Its two biggest facilities are in Johnstown, he said.

Hamaty said the company is following CDC guidelines to help protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.

"There's been no more than normal absenteeism among employees," he said.

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.


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