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February 27, 2012
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The recent resurgence in manufacturing activity has not only helped automotive giant General Motors Co. record its most profitable year ever, the revival also has had a huge positive impact for quite possibly the smallest industrial firm in Grand Rapids and maybe even in Michigan.

ABLE Manufacturing, with just five full-time employees and two part-time workers at its Crosby Street plant on the city’s northwest side, has seen business pick up nicely during the recovery.

“We’ve definitely seen an insurgence of more business, more sales,” said Doug Nyenhuis, ABLE manager and co-owner. “We’ve picked up a dozen new customers in the last two years. We’re working first shift only, 10-hour shifts.”

Nyenhuis said he wasn’t certain if ABLE actually is the smallest manufacturer within city limits. “I don’t know, but we’re probably pretty close to it,” he said, adding he hasn’t heard of any other with fewer employees.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood, who helped Nyenhuis get the firm approved for a tax abatement on the purchase of a new vertical machining mill last fall, wasn’t sure of the company’s size standing, either. 

“I can’t confirm if, in fact, ABLE is the smallest manufacturer in the city or the state. I can say it is probably one of the smallest manufacturing companies that the city has assisted with incentives,” she said. “The story of ABLE is a remarkable one.”

That story began in the fall of 2008 when GM closed its 36th Street stamping plant in Wyoming, and Nyenhuis found himself out of work. He spent 19 years there, working in both the manufacturing and tool-and-die ends. Once the shutdown occurred and a suddenly unstable future surfaced, Nyenhuis and Vicki, his wife, made the decision to stay here rather than relocate to an area with better employment opportunities.

“So we thought we would look for a local business in West Michigan,” he said.

They were impressed with ABLE, which had been in business since 1960, and they bought the company in March 2009 to become its fifth owner.

“They have certainly turned the company into one with growth that they’re working on today. This is definitely an example of economic gardening in Grand Rapids, growing our own local businesses,” said Wood.

Nearly three years after making what has turned out to be a very sound business decision, Nyenhuis shared a family secret with the Business Journal. The company’s name, in capital letters as it was when they were checking it out back in 2008, happens to be an acronym for the names of their four sons. And that coincidence became a good omen.

“The unique thing about it is, Vicki and I looked at it and we thought we needed to continue to look into this business because our boys are named Austin, Brett, Logan and Ethan, which are the initials of ABLE. So we kind of thought that we definitely have to pursue that business to see how it’s doing and possibly purchase it because it’s got the initials of our boys,” he said.

ABLE does precision grinding, turning and machining of parts and fabricated metal production. “We cut any steel or plastic castings for a great number of customers, from gear box to foundries to local machine builders. So it’s a great variety,” said Nyenhuis. “We’ve been growing the business very steadily since we took over.”

The new vertical machining mill the Nyenhuis’ bought last fall for $150,000 was installed in December. The abatement the city gave the company cuts the personal property tax the Nyenhuis’ would have paid for the machine in half for 12 years, which saves the firm $900 annually.

As for ABLE’s future, Nyenhuis sees more of the past down the road. “We see more steady growth,” he said.

When asked if he thought all the good things that have happened the last few years were going to continue, he answered without hesitating, “Yeah, I do.”

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