Greenblatt took a company with measuring tools no more high-tech than tape measures, where plus-or-minus one bagel was a perfectly acceptable variation in basket size, and turned it into a producer selling to customers needing accuracy down to the 4,000th of an inch. These days, Marlin Steel has mechanical engineers, skilled craftsmen and more than $3.5 million in robotics.

"That has saved the company," Greenblatt said.

And produced better-paying jobs — not all manufacturing is family-supporting. When he bought the company, the bagel-basket workers earned minimum wage with no health benefits. Now, annual pay on the factory floor — which doesn't include the degreed engineers — ranges from $30,000 to $80,000. And everyone is eligible for health insurance.

Five percent of the company's labor budget goes to worker education. Greenblatt credits the company's good fortune to the highly skilled workforce such spending helps maintain, plus cutting-edge automation and a drive to sell far beyond U.S. borders.

Marlin Steel has customers in 36 countries — including China, where so much is made nowadays.

Gene Burner, president of the Manufacturers' Alliance of Maryland, which lobbies for the sector, said the distinction between small and big manufacturers has blurred over the past decade or two. International isn't just for the giants. The Internet makes it easier for the little guys to sell to South Korea — and for South Korea to sell to those little guys' usual customers.

"It's global competition, so whether you're big or whether you're small, it's still global," Burner said.

Greenblatt said he loves the competition. Some of his manufacturing activism is aimed at global trade — he testified in support of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement last year, eager to get rid of the tariffs that add to the cost of selling there.

Free-trade deals are always contentious, and so are some of the Maryland-specific changes he suggests.

Greenblatt thinks the state should be going whole hog on extracting natural gas — he pointed to the "fracking" boom in Pennsylvania, and factories opening or expanding in Ohio to build pipe for drilling. And he suggests Maryland take a hard look at its taxes, particularly ones aimed at higher earners that also hit small companies taxed on a personal level.

Both ideas would probably face an uphill battle in liberal Maryland — one gets cast as business vs. the environment, and the other as have vs. have not.

State Del. Heather R. Mizeur, citing health and environmental concerns, said in September that she would propose a moratorium on fracking in Maryland until the state studies "all the safety risks involved." And Maryland's General Assembly increased income taxes on higher earners in the last session, calling it necessary to avoid cuts to education and other programs.

Jeff Fuchs, chairman of the Maryland Advisory Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness, said the group will look at the state's tax structure. Greenblatt also mentioned natural gas to him and he found it intriguing — though he warned that the issue is "complex." The commission's formal report isn't due for about a year, but Fuchs said the group wants to provide some manufacturing recommendations in February that could be acted on immediately.

"It's been made clear to us that this is something that is high up on the governor's radar," said Fuchs, who runs the Maryland World Class Consortia, a nonprofit that helps manufacturers and others operate more efficiently. "He wants to make sure we do the right thing by manufacturing in this state."

Greenblatt suspects Maryland would need to make significant changes if it wants to stop being counted out as a site for new factories. In the last three decades, as Maryland employers added more than 900,000 jobs overall, manufacturing shed 100,000. The state's rate of loss was far sharper than the country's as a whole.

Marlin Steel's owner thinks Maryland has important advantages to build on, if it wants to. Port, highways, railroads, universities — he thinks they're all great.

"We have a lot of things going for us," Greenblatt said. "This should be a manufacturing state. It was."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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