Catching the Wave
Manufacturing in the Gulf Coast region is positively humming along.
Five years ago, the Manufacturers Association of Florida began laying a foundation for future growth. Turning to the state’s lawmakers, the Tallahassee-based group sought to remove business “roadblocks,” says director Amanda Bowen, including a sales tax on manufacturing equipment. “A year ago, we were successful in getting legislation passed for permanent exemption,” she says. “And that has made the state very competitive.”
Next door in Alabama, Robinson Iron is enjoying a profitable mix of product sales and restoration projects. “We’re doing work on governors’ mansions and government buildings, including in Washington, D.C.,” says Luke Robinson, sales and marketing manager of the Alexander City–based company. “We’re very adaptable, and that’s our biggest strength.”
At Acme Brick in Fort Worth, production has ramped up but not to pre-2008 levels. As housing starts rise nationwide, the company’s many face-brick-making facilities are revving up; they’re now operating at 75 percent capacity. “One-and-a-half-million starts a year is ideal, and we surpassed one million last year,” says Ed Watson, senior vice president of production. “Experts say it may be three to four more years before we return to where we were—as long as there’s not another dip.”
Louisiana is sitting pretty, at the top of a market awash in liquefied natural gas produced by fracking in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Pipelines connect these sites to five Louisiana deepwater ports that can readily dispatch gas to eager markets in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. “As the pricing structure has changed, the gas has become more affordable,” says Don Pierson, Louisiana’s secretary of economic development, of the surge.
On the Gulf Coast, the good times are back at last.