What a difference a year makes.
Orion Manufacturing LLC, a small start-up in Mystic, had three employees last March, and it covered four work bays in an industrial park building off Flanders Road.
Today, the architectural woodworking manufacturer has seven employees, whose workspace now spans six of the eight work bays in the building, with each bay representing about 1,200 square feet.
If its business growth continues, says partner Scott Russotto, Orion Manufacturing may need even more space. "There are some growing pains," he says, "but we do seem to be growing."
Russotto is one of three partners who manage Orion - the others are Geoffrey G. Foote and his son Byron N. Foote. The company was founded in the summer of 2009, but Russotto says the business didn't really get rolling - albeit slowly - until January 2010. Since its founding, the company has built up an impressive roster of clients for its custom millwork and furnishings, including the upscale Ocean House in Westerly as well as Pfizer Inc., the Mohegan Sun and Yale University.
Orion Manufacturing is also a proud union shop. Its skilled craftsmen are all members of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Local 26. Russotto says union membership is important to Orion Manufacturing. It ensures a good wage and benefits for employees, and it's helpful when the custom millwork shop does business with larger companies, including large construction-management companies, which often are union shops.
"When I grew up, my Dad was in the machine-tool industry," recalls Russotto. "Unions were a lot more predominant then, and it seems there was more money going around for the working ranks than it seems there is today ... It's a sign of the times, I guess."
Opening a manufacturing business in Connecticut is no small task, and opening a company during an economic downturn certainly took courage. But Russotto said that he and his partners believe in their work, and their workers, and they can produce intricate carpentry projects for clients large and small. They're proud to say that Orion Manufacturing is known for its custom commercial work. Nearly all the work is "from scratch" using raw materials.
"We've had a variety of clients," says Russotto. He says the firm did more than $800,000 in sales its first year. He expects the firm's sales this year could be in excess of $2 million. While it's experiencing strong growth, Russotto says there are still signs that the economy, now in recovery, has taken its toll on business. He says payments for completed work tend to take longer to reach the firm.
The small manufacturer has worked with the state Department of Economic and Community Development to be part of a new program that gives companies tax credits for hiring workers. It is working with that same agency for funding assistance to buy additional equipment to accommodate its expansion.
Russotto says that he and his partners at Orion Manufacturing remain upbeat about the prospects for their custom woodworking. "I'm more of a positive person," he says. "It isn't all that bad. We're having fun with our business, and we're able to employ some people. These people have good benefits and they make good wages," says Russotto.
He's also upbeat about manufacturing prospects here in Connecticut. Indeed, manufacturers across the state have seen a resurgence as the economy begins to gain strength. And Russotto says Orion's success does show that "manufacturing can work in Connecticut."
Anthony Cronin is The Day's business editor.