12 jobs cut at Pro Tool in Ashland

ASHLAND — Darex and Pro Tool Manufacturing has laid off 12 full-time employees, or 15 percent of the industrial and professional tool sharpener-maker's staff.

“We’re driven by the consumer economy, and the consumer market is down,” co-founder and owner Dave Bernard said Tuesday.

“The demand for consumer products is down and that is driving manufacturing down. We sell to businesses that make things.”

The company was founded 35 years ago in Chicago and moved to Ashland in 1979. At its high point five years ago, the manufacturer had a full-time staff of 100 with another 20 temporary workers during peak seasons, Bernard said.

More recently, the company has had around 70 full-time employees.

With both residential housing and manufacturing in a slump, Bernard said Darex and Pro Tool Manufacturing anticipated a down year in 2008.

“The last quarter was so much worse and we really felt it,” Bernard said.

“We get a report from the American Manufacturers Association. The graph goes up and down and then from October to November it goes down as low as any points as I’ve seen in the last 10 years. All at once, for whatever reason, people stopped spending money; I think people just got really scared. I wish I had a better understanding why.”

Ultimately, the financial collapse that unfolded throughout 2008 undercut manufacturing.

“It’s like what Obama said (Tuesday), there were a lot of people in powerful positions that were greedy and took advantage of all of us,” Bernard said.

“We’ve lived pretty high for a long time and now we’re paying for it for awhile.”

Although broad-scale government infrastructure investment to stimulate the economy has been discussed at federal and state levels, Bernard said his company won’t wait for government direction to chart a course.

“There may or may not be an impact from that,” Bernard said.

“That may happen, but we don’t anticipate any other forces moving us the right direction. I think we’ve made enough changes in the business to grow from here and create new products and new ways to market those products. Given the environment we’re in, it may take us longer to get there, but I think we can get there from where we are at.”

He said small business, tradesmen and mechanics are the bulk of the company’s market and demand from those sectors will trigger growth.

“There’s always the balancing act,” Bernard said.

“But we’re still maintaining our ability to move forward and innovate.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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