O'Neal Gets Boost From Industry

O'Neal Gets Boost From Industry

A surge in manufacturing has enabled a local engineering and construction company to come roaring back from its recessionary low point.

Employment at O’Neal Inc. sank to 150 during the economic downturn, but since January the company has added 75 jobs and plans to fill another 25 by the end of the year, said Kevin Bean, its chief executive officer.

O’Neal, which has offices in Atlanta and Raleigh on top of its Greenville headquarters, is on track to reach $250 million in annual revenue this year, a goal set in 2006 when annual revenue was $120 million, Bean said.

“I believe we’ve turned the corner as quickly as anybody out there,” he said.
A key reason is manufacturing, where production has risen 15 percent from its trough during the recession, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in congressional testimony on Tuesday.

In South Carolina, manufacturing employment turned the corner in 2010, adding 3,300 jobs for the first net gain in 13 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This year, the state’s manufacturing employment has fared even better, growing every month through August for a net gain of 8,700 jobs.

And that doesn’t include 3,750 jobs announced for new or expanded plants to make transmissions and tires in Laurens, Aiken and Sumter counties, factories that haven’t come online yet.

As of August, South Carolina was the Southeast’s leader in manufacturing job growth, with its increase nearly double that of Kentucky, the state with the second-biggest boost, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

O’Neal is one of the companies benefiting, since almost all of its clients are manufacturers.

Bean said the employee-owned O’Neal considered adding government and commercial development work to its traditional industrial customer base but is now glad it didn’t.

“All of our competitors are changing their Web sites so they look more industrial and less commercial right now,” he said.

Bean said more than 60 percent of O’Neal’s current workload is from foreign firms, which he said are using the economic downturn as an opportunity to penetrate the U.S. market.

Current O’Neal projects include a $200 million job helping Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp. design and build a plant in Memphis to make transformers that weigh one million pounds.

In Decatur, Ala., O’Neal is helping an Indian company called Polyplex design and build a $187 million factory to make plastic film for food wrapping. Bean said the Polyplex job is O’Neal’s first work on a fiber or film assembly line in eight years.