For small manufacturers dependent on automakers for their livelihoods, yesterday's General Motors Corp. bankruptcy was one more blow in a series that has had many of them clinging to a single hope: outlasting their rivals to emerge with orders in hand when the auto industry turns around.
"I'm hanging on. I'm trying to survive to reap some of the rewards," said Linda Macht, president of Tottser Tool & Manufacturing, of Huntingdon Valley.
Macht, who succeeded her father as president of the metal fabricator in 1994, said Tottser counts on automakers for 80 percent to 90 percent of its business. Because of the auto-industry slump, her workforce is down to 30 from 65.
"I was a $10 million company. I'm lucky if hit five this year," she said.
Macht's biggest customer is Toyota Motor Corp., which is not as bad off as the Detroit Three - General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler L.L.C.
Even so, her Toyota business is down 40 percent this year, Macht said. Tottser makes seat brackets for all Toyota vehicles made in North America. The company also makes parts for GMC, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.
Blue Ridge Pressure Castings, of Lehighton, Pa., is almost completely dependent on the automotive industry, including heavy-duty trucks. It has invested heavily in automation to meet the volume demands of its customers for parts that are made by injecting molten metal into dies under high pressure.
The GM plants Blue Ridge supplies have been shut down for inventory adjustments since May 6 and were not scheduled to reopen until July 6, even without the bankruptcy, said Andy Behler, vice president of operations at the company his grandfather founded in 1946.
Behler said Blue Ridge had shrunk to 65 or 70 people from 150 last year. "Even with that, we've had to take some weeks out where we just don't come in," he said, adding that he desperately wants to avoid further cuts.
"We're trying to keep a core group here, so we can wait it out longer than others," he said, realizing how hard that is because "everybody is trying to do that."
In York, Pa., metal stamper New Standard Corp. has worked hard to avoid the sort of specialization that has landed Blue Ridge in such a tough spot.
New Standard's president, Mort Zifferer, said the company tried to avoid having more than 20 percent of its business in any one industry.
For automotive, New Standard makes parts for windshield wipers and oil filters, "anything that has to be replaced in the down cycle," Zifferer said.
Macht, at Tottser Tool, has known for a long time that she needs to diversify her customer base. That is tough to do under any economic conditions, much less today's tough times.
For now, she is adjusting any way she can.
"I just put a building up for sale." she said. "Just like GM, we're forced to be smaller than who we were."