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Manufacturing found throughout county

Made in Butler County
Jason Letzelter, a process technician at Butler Technologies, works the controls on the digital printer Oct. 6 as part of the company’s Manufacturing Day open house. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Manufacturing will continue to play a major role in the future progress of Butler County.

At present the county is home to more than 300 manufacturers, ranging from chemical plants to steel production, making it the first out of the state’s 67 counties in this category, according to the Tri County Manufacturers Consortium.

Manufacturing in Butler County accounts for 12,445 jobs out of a population of 194,273 based on information provided by Data USA.

That’s not news to Jordan Grady, president of the Butler County Chamber of Commerce.

“Manufacturing is a major industry in Butler County and is flourishing. It's not only the county's largest industry but also one of the state's largest, and the county is a leader in total manufacturing and innovation,” said Grady.

Belleville International, which has a facility in Butler, makes metal components such as washers. Submitted photo

One of those flourishing manufacturers is Belleville International, 330 E. Cunningham St., Butler, according to Ralph Hardt, its president.

“We make precision valves and spring components for a variety of industries, aerospace and energy,” he said.

“I think we are doing well and adapting to new technologies and using them to be cost effective,” said Hardt. “We are cost competitive and able to compete in a global market.”

Twenty percent of its products are shipped overseas, he added and sales were up 50% in the past year.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” said Randy Bollinger, Belleville International’s technical sales and support manager.

“We are growing pretty rapidly, adding a new market per year,” said Bollinger. “We are looking at new machines to improve the man/machine ratios.”

Another local manufacturer is Coherent Corp., headquartered in Clinton Township, with 525 local employees and 26,000 employees worldwide in 24 countries. Coherent creates engineered materials and optoelectronic components for use in a variety of fields. It has 2023 revenue of $5.2 billion, according to Stacey Armagost, vice president of Coherent’s IR Optics and Materials Division and site manager at 375 Saxonburg Blvd. The Clinton Township-based II-VI Incorporated acquired Coherent in July 2022.

“Growing consumer demand for electric vehicles, 5G technology and chip manufacturing is a driving force in our industry,” said Armagost. “This growing demand has increased our sales and success.

“Coherent continues to leverage its vertical integration from materials growth to successfully delivering finished products which drives the company’s quality policy of ‘fully satisfying customers and continually improving.’’’

Butler Technologies Inc., 231 W. Wayne St., is also experiencing healthy sales, said Courtney Houtz, the marketing manager for the company.

Its 50 employees make printed electronics, switches and other custom products.

“It’s doing well. We’re selling into medical industry controls,” said Houtz.

“We make biometric sensors that measure heart rate and flexible heaters used to keep car seats warm,” she said. Other products include conductive inks and circuits printed onto flexible films.

Butler Technologies can even help its customers by creating whole new products.

“We’re offering a full solution for our customers, not just printing,” said Houtz. “We help our customer through the whole process from design to production, from what we call a napkin sketch to production.”

Hardt credits Belleville International’s success to support from Butler County Community College, the county commissioners, the Tri-County Work Force Investment Board and Catalyst Connection, a private not-for-profit organization based in Pittsburgh that provides consulting and training services to small manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In fact, the only thing that might affect Belleville International’s continued success are circumstances beyond its control, said Hardt. He points to international hot spots such as North Korea and China, the wars in the Ukraine and Israel and the continuing debt crisis in the United States.

“There’s geopolitical tensions and economic concerns,” he said. “The wagon train is in a circle and arrows are heading our way.

“We just have to be sure to fend them off. But one day, one of those arrows are going to get through.”

One of those arrows could be a lack of workers, the chamber’s Grady said.

“Although this challenge is largely out of their control, manufacturers in Butler County have been working to strengthen their internal offerings to attract and retain talent,” he said.

Coherent’s Armagost spoke to the importance of people, too.

“Our people are part of our success. Employees are encouraged to engage in continuous learning opportunities, including corporate-sponsored programs such as learn initiatives, product management and women in leadership,” Armagost said.

“Coherent also offers tuition reimbursement for those looking to complete college courses,” she added. “Coherent collaborates and partners with local high schools, the Butler County Vo-Technical School, Lenape Technical School and Butler County Community College and is an active member of the Butler County Chamber.”

Perceptions of the job

Armagost added part of the problem is changing people’s perceptions of a manufacturing job.

“A local challenge is the younger generations’ view on manufacturing. Manufacturing careers can be very successful, and lucrative, all while creating products that enable the world to be safer, healthier, closer and more efficient,” said Armagost.

Helping employers connect with trained workers is the job of the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, that works to find employees for companies in Butler, Armstrong and Indiana counties.

“It’s a dilemma to find employees, especially trained in what (the employers) are looking for,” he said. “It’s a challenge to manufacturing in Butler County. It’s difficult to take on new contracts and opportunities, if you don’t have the manpower to do it.”

But Butler County manufacturers seem to be avoiding another problem.

Advantageous location

Chamber president Grady added that while managing supply-chain issues can be challenging, the location of Butler County seems advantageous.

Butler Technologies’ Houtz said, “We haven’t had supply chain issues which is good for us. It hasn’t affected us. We are able to get parts and materials.”

Flipping a gauge cluster print onto his work surface, Dan Morales, of Butler, prepares to attach a white backing to the sheet at Butler Technologies. Butler Eagle file photo

Grady added the chamber offers support to prospective manufacturers looking to establish themselves in the county. This support includes: connecting them with real estate agents, providing access to the county's economic development team, connecting them with elected officials and offering information on potential state and federal funding opportunities.

“Overall, it appears that Butler County and its chamber of commerce are actively working to foster a favorable environment for manufacturing and attract new businesses to the area,” said Grady.

“I think manufacturing is very strong in the county. A lot of companies are leaders in what they do,” said Belleville International’s Hardt.

Coherent’s Armagost quoted Dr. Carl J. Johnson, co-founder and first CEO of II-VI, “We are mainly constricted by the quality of our materials and the limits of our imaginations.”

MSA Safety employee Steph Tomaro, right, explains some of the equipment the company manufactures during an event Oct. 5, the day before national Manufacturing Day. Butler Eagle file photo

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