Thursday, December 25, 2014

Nowhere but up: Window-maker feels stimulus.

Energy-efficiency opens up opportunities.

Accu-Weld president John Haddon in the plant his family bought in Bensalem. Keeping abreast of technical innovations, he says, is a must for businesses hoping to compete in the green economy.<br />
Accu-Weld president John Haddon in the plant his family bought in Bensalem. Keeping abreast of technical innovations, he says, is a must for businesses hoping to compete in the green economy. JOHN COSTELLO / Staff Photographer

If the green economy makes John Haddon a wealthy man, he will owe a fair amount of the credit to good karma and fortuitous timing.

For when Haddon and his partners - five brothers and a brother-in-law - first considered buying a Bensalem manufacturer of energy-efficient windows and doors in October, Barack Obama had not yet been elected president. His green agenda was just campaign talk.

Four months would go by before Congress passed the $787 billion federal stimulus package that made rebates and other financial incentives available for the kinds of energy-saving goods the manufacturer, Accu-Weld Replacement Window & Door Co., was producing.

As the home-building industry was sputtering to a halt, Accu-Weld lost several large customers - dealers and distributors - and laid off 70 employees last year.

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  • Against that dismal backdrop, Haddon - a 25-year veteran of window and door sales and marketing in Maryland - and his family bought Accu-Weld on Feb. 13. That would be Friday the 13th.

    "It seemed to be a good time to make a purchase: Buy when things are low, not when things are high," Haddon said of the acquisition decision. "We really had nowhere to go but up."

    Indeed, up has been the company's trajectory since then.

    Accu-Weld is a privately held company, and Haddon would not disclose business specifics. He said only that since the stimulus package was announced, "we have experienced a 240 percent increase in units produced that qualify for the tax credit." Sales, he said, are up 20 percent since his family bought the company.

    Just after Congress and Obama approved the stimulus plan, he said, "we got phone calls from current and past customers asking which windows do we have that qualify for the stimulus package." Traffic on the company's Web site was up, too.

    About a month later, Gov. Rendell made a photo-op visit to the plant. There, as television cameras rolled, Rendell signed two certification letters necessary for Pennsylvania to receive its expected allotment of stimulus funds, $366 million.

    The publicity "was huge for us," said Haddon's brother, Matt.

    Said brother John of the serendipitous beginnings: "Somebody is looking out for us."

    Whether that lasts is a matter even seasoned experts are not prepared to predict.

    At Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, Kermit Baker leads a study of the home-remodeling industry "to get a sense of what is the potential for green products in this economy."

    Last month, the center surveyed 250 remodeling contractors on the amount of green work they have been seeing this year. According to Baker, 48 percent reported an increase and 48 percent reported "stable" conditions, while 4 percent indicated a drop in such work.

    With the Obama administration behind America's becoming a more restrained energy user, "I would guess that the next four to six years look pretty positive" for manufacturers of energy-efficient products, Baker said.

    Beyond that, things will depend, in part, on oil prices and whether energy-efficient construction features go the way of the low-flow toilet - mandated by federal law.

    Though Accu-Weld's new owners are hoping to bring staffing back to the level it was three years ago, about 300, they have yet to make any hires. But they have increased the workweek of the company's 140 employees from 32 hours to 40 hours.

    The jobs include general laborers, machinists, and office staff, with pay ranging from $9.50 to $22 an hour.

    Because its Energy Star-rated products were already stimulus-compliant, Accu-Weld is not tied up with the time-consuming testing that companies now seeking stimulus certification are pursuing.

    Instead, its focus is growing its customer base, preferably in a smaller market area to reduce transportation costs, John Haddon said. The firm currently ships along the East Coast and into the Midwest.

    Another must for green businesses: keeping abreast of technological innovations.

    "We always have to have an eye out on what's the next best insulating technology," he said.

     


    Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

     

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