...Mr. Roberts, now 51, a Sherrill native and 14-year employee of Oneida, stepped in to buy the factory and find a way to retain at least a fraction of its work force. He recruited to his cause Mr. Owens, 52, a fellow manufacturing veteran he met in Toluca, Mexico, where both did management stints at Oneida’s facility there. The day after Oneida’s Sherrill plant closed in March 2005, it reopened — with a far smaller staff — as Sherrill Manufacturing.
For 10 rocky years, the business has been groping its way toward a model that will let it operate profitably and keep at least a vestige of the town’s manufacturing heritage intact. Now, the company is starting to find some success with an approach it hopes will be sustainable: a direct-sales business aimed at customers willing to pay a bit more for American-made products.
It’s a path being pursued by a handful of American manufacturers that have tried to adapt to global economic realities by recasting themselves as high-quality purveyors of goods that preserve local production heritages. The country now has just one remaining metal whistle maker, one barber pole manufacturer, one sparkler producer and one sneaker factory, among other vanishing industries.
Domestic employment in the manufacturing industry has fallen by nearly 30 percent in the last two decades, according to government data. Around 12 million people now work in the field.
“When you lose these skills, they don’t come back,” Mr. Owens said. He’s determined to hang on to the expertise of local craftsmen like Eric Lawrence, 41, an engraver who started his career 17 years ago with Oneida. He now designs Sherrill Manufacturing’s patterns.Unsurprisingly, the manufacturing jobs for flatware appear to have gone overseas. The company is surviving, but it sounds pretty hand to mouth. Best wishes to them, and to all of us.