In this digital world, old-industry companies can be busier than ever.
"We're running around the clock," said Nicholas Maiale, second-generation owner of Inserts East Inc. on industrial-heavy Central Highway in Pennsauken.
The company is printing circulars and newspaper insert ads for ShopRite, Dick's Sporting Goods, Duane Reade drugstores, Mealey's Furniture, Five Below Inc., and other retailers.
Maiale has hired 30 workers in the last several months, boosting total employment above 200. They staff a rebuilt eight-unit Heidelberg Harris 36-inch heatset press line and two folding machines, financed with a $5 million loan from TD Bank. The press was delivered to Inserts East's 150,000-square-foot plant in April.
Business has been so good, Maiale said, he's thinking of adding another line.
More U.S. companies have been raising money to grow. Though residential and other construction loans were mostly flat or declining over the last year, industrial and commercial lending rose at all 10 of the largest U.S. banks, according to bank tracker SNL Financial. Small-bank business lending is also up modestly, especially in the Northeast, raising hopes that more companies will hire.
"We're seeing pockets of improvement," says Joseph Tredinnick, who heads business lending for TD Bank from the Princeton area to Camden.
"I look at people's financial statements every day. Owners are making money. They are reaccumulating wealth," Tredinnick added.
But many aren't ready to expand: They are still paying down old loans. Or they are not yet convinced their customers are ready to spend more, and are piling up capital instead of risking it.
At firms that are growing, it's not just a sign of revived customer demand, but also of competitors' weaknesses. Even when technology is displacing firms across an industry, there are profits to be made by competitors with better timing, focus, luck.
"Nick's operation runs 24/7, 365 - and Nick seems like he's there 24/7, 365," said Tredinnick.
The hands-on owner, the firm's proximity to customers and markets, and failing competitors helped persuade Tredinnick to bet on making Inserts East bigger. Even as more and more advertisers move online and to smartphones, here was one firm ready to cut a larger slice of a smaller pie.
Maiale had considered adding presses in 2011 but held off, waiting as competitors struggled.
AFL Web Printing closed its Voorhees plant over the winter, idling 260 workers, and another in Secaucus after suppliers forced it into Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation.
AFL formerly printed newspapers, including the South Jersey Times (now printed at Gannett Corp.'s Cherry Hill plant) and Philadelphia Metro, as well as advertising inserts. It was shut by buyout investor James W. Schubauer II's Long Island firm, Westbury Partners, which bought AFL three years earlier with financial backing from the federal Small Business Administration.
Among Maiale's regional competitors, Vertis Communications closed its plant in Saugerties, N.Y., which served big retailers throughout the Northeast, laying off 150 last year. Creps United Publications, in Indiana, Pa., burned down in the fall, autumn, idling 180. Its family owners say they will rebuild.
Besides picking customers from shuttered rivals, Maiale has hired some of their key staffers. Terry Shockey, operations chief at Vertis' Kansas City plant, joined Inserts East as production director in January. So did Jerry Dropcho, AFL's former head of human relations. Maiale says he hired AFL people "almost daily" after it shut down.
Pennsylvania presses have also consolidated. IBS Direct Mail Marketing, a direct-response printer in King of Prussia, consolidated the operations of Imtek L.L.C., of Bridgeport, N.J., and Mars Graphic Services of Westville at IBC's plant, in deals financed by Citizens Bank.
There have been other recent mergers in the region.
Before pumping cash into resurgent industrial firms, lenders and investors want to see more than just profits.
"The numbers have to make sense - and the story has to make sense, as well," Tredinnick said.
In Maiale's case, Nick and his father, Gino, now retired, "Stuck with what they knew," said Tredinnick. "They're not trying to be something they're not."
They have avoided printing dailies or glossy magazines, for example.
Despite bankers' common complaint that good borrowing prospects are rare, lenders reject a lot more proposals than they endorse.
"I've found you get more with 'no' than 'yes,' " Tredinnick said. "That's because my 'no' is usually 'no, but.' And a 'no, but' gives owners direction."
Lending is like other human relationships, he added: "Sometimes we've said no and the borrower's not happy. But we keep going. We're in this together."