Columbus Castings to hire 500 more at South Side foundry

Dan Gearino, The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus Castings melts scrap metal and then molds it into parts, with most of its products being used in rail cars.

September 3, 2014

Heavy industry is making a comeback on the South Side as Columbus Castings plans a near-doubling of its workforce, adding about 500 jobs.

The expansion, which the company will announce this morning, is to take place over three years with a focus on attracting workers who live in the neighborhood, said officials from the company and city government.

Columbus Castings is adding employees to serve an anticipated growth in demand for steel parts needed to make rail cars and because of growing sales of repair parts.

The company will receive tax incentives from the city and state.

"This is one of the most important jobs announcements in the time I've been mayor," said Mayor Michael B. Coleman, who has held the office since 2000.

"I'm absolutely elated."

New workers will be paid $13 to $26 an hour plus benefits, a range that covers a wide array of job descriptions, said Joseph Haviv, the company's chairman.

In addition, the company is spending $16 million on machinery and other upgrades related to the expansion.

Columbus Castings has been talking with the city and state for more than a year about the expansion, based on the premise that the company would double its workforce, going from 550 to 1,100 employees.

During discussions, the company has added about 50 jobs, bringing the current number to about 600, and leaving 500 to be added. The figures do not include temporary workers.

Columbus Castings is a foundry that melts scrap metal and then molds it into parts. Most of its products are used in rail cars, with a smaller share going to products for the mining, construction and energy industries.

Rail-car sales plummeted during the recent downturn but have rebounded in a big way because of the need to transport oil, said Christopher Plummer, managing director of Metal Strategies Inc., a consulting firm in West Chester, Pa. He is projecting sales of 58,000 cars this year, which is up from a low of 17,000 in 2009.

"That market is booming because there is not enough (oil) pipeline capacity," he said.

The South Side plant occupies a niche as a maker of steel parts. Steel - a mix of iron, carbon and other materials - is stronger and more expensive than iron and constitutes a small share of the output of U.S. metal foundries, Plummer said.

The company, long known as Buckeye Steel Castings, bills itself as the largest single-site steel foundry in North America. It is one of the city's oldest manufacturing employers, operating at its current site since 1902 and formed from predecessors that date to 1881.

One of its early executives was Samuel Prescott Bush, grandfather and great-grandfather to Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively.

The company's heyday lasted for decades as it made parts for the rail industry and produced tank components during World War II. It had about 2,000 employees in 1952, according to a news report from the time.

It has been bought and sold several times, including a stint from 1980 to 1989 when it was part of a much younger Columbus manufacturer, Worthington Industries.

For the past few decades, much of the news from the company was about labor unrest and concerns about harmful air emissions.

The plant released 332,143 pounds of pollutants in 2012, the most recent year available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That was way down from emissions in previous years, but the company was still among the largest polluters in central Ohio. This new project includes investments in ways to recycle materials and reduce pollutants.

The city government has negotiated a seven-year, 65 percent income-tax incentive for the project, with an estimated value of $257,000 per year.

JobsOhio will likely provide incentives and recommend state incentives, but details were not immediately available, according to a spokesman for the privately operated economic-development office.

Gov. John Kasich is scheduled to join Coleman and Haviv this morning to announce the plan. They will be at the Reeb Avenue Center, 280 Reeb Ave., for a ceremonial groundbreaking.

The center is a previously announced social-services hub that will help with recruitment and training for Columbus Castings and other employers. It is part of what Coleman says is a wide-ranging strategy to revitalize the neighborhood.

Since 2008, Columbus Castings has been part of Protostar Partners, a private-equity firm of which Haviv is the top executive.

The South Side factory had two of its most challenging years immediately after the sale, facing a combination of low sales and regulatory problems related to pollution.

"It's extremely gratifying and humbling" to have survived such a difficult start, Haviv said. " We made it out of a very difficult spot."