Finishes: Manufacturing a comeback

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Frank Shannon, left, owner of Finishes, a metal-plating company, inspects an order with employee Josh Hilton. The company’s revenue jumped 15 percent last quarter.

Silver lining: Frank Shannon, left, owner of Finishes, a metal-plating company, inspects an order with employee Josh Hilton. The company’s revenue jumped 15 percent last quarter.

The telephone is ringing more often these days at Finishes Ltd., a Colorado Springs metal-plating shop.

That has meant revenue growth and hiring at the company, thanks to a return of manufacturing work including assignments from overseas.

Finishes applies protective coatings on various metal parts such as keypads, gun triggers, microscopes or fly fish clips.

Metal formers and machinists are calling with larger orders and there are even new customers, said Frank Shannon, Finishes president and owner.

Revenue was up 15 percent in the last quarter after three quarters each of 4 percent growth. It’s so busy that Shannon added two people to his eight-member team to keep up with orders.

“Some of the work we had seen go overseas we’ve now seen come back,” Shannon said.

The year ended with Finishes breaking even.

“We have basically been a nonprofit for about four years,” Shannon said. “My wife and I have not been compensated either in profits or wages for four years.”

When Shannon and his wife Linda bought the business in 1990, manufacturing jobs in Colorado Springs represented about 17 percent of the workforce.

The Shannons expanded their customer base statewide, doubled revenue in each of the first two of business and grew it by 10 percent a year until 2002.

Then, manufacturing jobs started moving offshore. Colorado manufacturing decreased by 30 percent and nearly half of Finishes’ customers filed for bankruptcy, Shannon said.

Finishes took a beating from which it has not yet fully recovered.

Today, manufacturing jobs in Colorado Springs represent 5 percent of the workforce.

“When we bought the business, we never thought manufacturing could take a hit,” Linda said. “We thought there would always be a need for making products in the U.S.”

Finishes went from 21 employees to six and Shannon dipped into his retirement savings to keep the business open. Things started to turn around by 2005 and Finishes was up to 13 employees. Then, recession hit. Many times the Shannons thought about cutting losses and closing their 7,200-square-foot shop.

“I probably should have closed,” Frank Shannon said. “But, I like my crew. I can’t see sending them out in this environment, they wouldn’t get a job.”

Shannon always thought of himself as politically minded. But, when manufacturing started moving out of the U.S. to other countries, he became politically active.

He is a member of a number of manufacturing trade associations. He hosts rallies for industry and political leaders. He blogs. He has been on national government affairs teams and he has waited hours in Capitol Hill offices just for 15 minutes with lawmakers to talk about such things as China’s undervalued currency and taxes on U.S. production.

“The only way I can save my company is to save the industry,” Shannon said.

Shannon co-chairs the Colorado chapter of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a national nonprofit that sends ranchers, farmers and business owners to meet with lawmakers, pushing for reforms in tax laws and fair currency. For example, CPA lobbied hard for the passage of a bill that would authorize the Commerce Department to impose duties on imports from countries where there is an undervalued currency, like China’s. It passed the House in September, but did not pass in the Senate.

“My message to people is, if you are in business, you better be involved in politics,” Shannon said. “If you are not involved in politics, you may not be in business.”

Nationally, U.S. manufacturing grew 11 percent in 2010, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a national supply management association based in Arizona.

Recovery centered on autos, metals, machinery, computers and electronics, the institute’s Jan. 3 report said. Economists at the institute predict 4 percent growth in the manufacturing industry in 2011.

That’s good news, Shannon said. When companies are producing, Finishes is busy.

He’s projecting $600,000 in revenues in 2011, and says he might even see a paycheck.