WHEELING - Despite what some people may think, there are still local companies making products that people use every day.
And the leaders of those companies plan on keeping it that way.
In Paden City, Marble King continues to make about 1 million marbles a day. And though children don't play with marbles like they used to, Beri Fox is keeping her business running by finding new niche markets for her product.
For example, ever hear something clanking inside a spray paint can when it is shaken? More than likely it's a Marble King marble.
And this year, Fox, the company's president and CEO, plans to pursue new markets for her marbles. Small wineries, she said, can use marbles in bottles during the fermentation process. To make sure the wine rises to the cork, leaving no space for air, marbles are placed in the bottom of the bottle.
"They can be used in home (wine making) kits and throughout smaller wineries," Fox said. "They can be sterilized and used time after time."
Are there any American-made products in the Ohio Valley?
Yes, as Paden City's Marble King produces about a million marbles per day. Homer Laughlin China Co. also continues to be successful with its Fiesta brand, and the Commercial Vehicle Group Shadyside is hoping for a strong 2011 in the steel stamping market.
Another new avenue is health care. Fox said she is pursuing selling her marbles for use during physical rehabilitation sessions. For example, therapy for stroke victims involves picking up items with hands and toes and marbles can be used for this, she said.
Fox also plans to begin marketing Marble King as a tourist destination and promoting her gift shop, located near the plant off First Avenue.
Last year, Fox became a national spokeswoman of sorts for the American small business owner. After speaking during an Alliance for American Manufacturing forum in Wheeling, Fox was invited to appear on the "Colbert Report" during which she talked about the importance of the United States having a manufacturing base.
While on "Colbert" she met Martha Stewart, which led to her appearing on the "Martha Stewart Show" to talk about the history of marbles and her company.
Fox noted she is thankful for the exposure Marble King received on those TV shows and for being given the chance to talk about the importance of American manufacturing to a nationwide audience.
This year, Fox plans to continue working with the Alliance for American Manufacturing and legislators. She hopes lawmakers will help make a more fair playing field for manufacturers. For example, foreign goods entering U.S. ports often have American flags on them even though they are not made in the USA, she said.
"Goods that are not made in America should not use the American flag or say 'USA made,"' Fox said.
Marble King can now use the label "Made in USA Certified," thanks to a recent audit conducted by Made in USA Certified Inc. Marble King is the first U.S. children's toy manufacturer to be granted the designation.
"I would like to see small manufacturers form a group. Together we all have a stronger position than independently," she added.
Another longtime Ohio Valley manufacturer still thriving is the Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell. Joe Wells, the company's president and CEO, said during tough economic times, Homer Laughlin's famous Fiesta pattern of dinnerware has helped the company remain profitable.
"2011 is Fiesta's 75th anniversary. We will have a new color, marigold ..." Wells said.
Homer Laughlin bought the Hall China Co. in East Liverpool last March. Wells described success with Hall products as "slow," but noted Hall mostly makes commercial or foodservice wares.
"We have a number of licensed products that Homer Laughlin cannot make. We have licensed glassware and we don't make glasses," Wells said.
Homer Laughlin employs about 900 people at the Newell factory.
"We have a tremendous work force. If not for our people working here, we wouldn't exist," Wells said.
The Commercial Vehicle Group Shadyside stamping plant employs about 160 people, down from 247 in 2008.
"Shadyside has been a provider of stamped steel and aluminum exterior panels and cab-structure products used in the manufacture of heavy trucks. On occasion, we have also stamped panels for niche vehicles such as the Ford GT 40, Chevy SSR and Plymouth Prowler; but that is a spotty market we cannot count on for steady work," said Greg Boese, managing director-Structures for CVG Shadyside.
There may be more of a demand in 2011 for products such those produced at the plant, according to market analysts, he said.
"Although on this basis we expect an increase in industry volumes, it does not necessarily translate into a directly proportional increase in work for our plants including Shadyside," he noted.
Boese noted the company continues to feel pressure to compete with similar products made in Mexico.
"During the recent economic downturn, manufacturing experienced a shift, and original equipment manufacturers, having excess capacity, pulled some work like that CVG Shadyside performs in-house or relocated it to Mexico," he said.
To help grow its business, Boese said CVG is increasing its focus on "sales growth" and is expanding its "manufacturing capabilities into other markets such as agriculture, construction, commercial and specialty vehicles."
"Most recently we invested in cellular manufacturing that includes robotic workstations at Shadyside to launch a new door assembly program for the agricultural and construction markets," he said.
Though the recession and foreign competition have had a big impact on the heavy-truck market, Boese said CVG Shadyside will continue to work to stay competitive.
"As our business volumes recently reached some of the lowest levels in our company history we have changed our business significantly in order to remain competitive and survive. At Shadyside, we have worked closely with our employees and their union to provide our customers with quality products at competitive prices," he said.
"As the economy continues to globalize, our ability to stay competitive in the marketplace becomes a challenge due to increased foreign competition and the lower pricing that competition brings to the market.
"There is no question we will have to work together to meet these challenges and keep CVG Shadyside a viable operation. Without question, sales growth and our ability to compete in our current as well as new markets is key to the long-term viability of Shadyside."