Baltimore's manufacturing base has suffered just like everywhere else in the nation — the victim of cheap labor overseas and a changing business climate at home.
What is left of manufacturing in the Baltimore metro area — diminished to about 5 percent of the region's work force from roughly one-third in the heyday of the 1950s — is a small cadre of companies that have found a blueprint for success.
They are large corporations like Under Armour Inc., the homegrown sports apparel maker, and household names such as Domino Sugars, which still operates a factory on Baltimore's waterfront.
And they are lesser-known but stalwart companies that have chugged along for decades, even as the manufacturing base crumbled around them. These niche companies make horseradish and lacrosse sticks and devices to sweep the crumbs from restaurant tabletops.
We take you on a tour of those small manufacturers, and tell the stories of how they started and how they have survived.
Tulkoff Food Products Inc.
The Tulkoff brand of horseradish and other sauces is very much a regional name, but the Baltimore company's reach spans the country.
The family-owned business started by Russian immigrants more than 80 years ago — fittingly, on the city's famed Corned Beef Row block of Jewish delis — still sells Tulkoff products in Baltimore-area grocery stores.
But most of the garlic, ginger and horseradish sauces Tulkoff Food Products Inc. makes these days don't carry the company name. And that's the way Tulkoff executives want it.
The company has moved most of its business from selling at retail to making products for other food and distribution companies.
Some of the products made for others are tightly locked away in a cabinet on the manufacturing floor, away from eyes of visitors. That's because the clients who sell the Tulkoff-made products under their own brand names don't necessarily want it known that someone else makes their sauces.
Tulkoff has taken many steps to increase its distribution. Several years ago, Tulkoff opened an office in California to make it easier to serve customers nationally. And in 2008, it opened a new 80,000-square-foot headquarters in Baltimore's Holabird Industrial Park.
The new building includes upgraded equipment that allows for the production of more products. It also houses a test kitchen where the company can concoct new sauces, both for itself and other companies.
Tulkoff, a private company, doesn't release revenue or sales information, but officials said its strategies have helped the business grow while other manufacturers have suffered.
It hopes to be around another 80 years, if not longer.
"If you're willing to change and adapt with the times, and know that you can't stay the same, you'll last," said Philip Tulkoff, the company's president of the company started by his grandparents.
—Andrea K. Walker
Helmut Guenschel Inc.
Helmut Guenschel has made display cases that house a Gutenberg Bible, vintage baseball jerseys worn by the New York Yankees and the gun used to kill Abraham Lincoln.
And when the Johns Hopkins University needed a company to design and fabricate display cases for an archaeology museum that opened last fall, it didn't have to look far.
Helmut Guenschel Inc. in Middle River has built an international reputation in the field of conserving and displaying priceless art and artifacts. Its clients include the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The company's namesake and president, German-born Helmut Guenschel, came to America in 1954 and settled in Baltimore. Trained as a master cabinetmaker, he initially worked for others. He learned English and earned a civil engineering degree at the University of Maryland.
In 1964, with his brother-in-law Joseph Hugel, he opened the company that bears his name. It started in Highlandtown and later moved to its present location next to Martin State Airport. The company's first museum-related commission came from what is now the Walters Art Museum.
Now 78, Guenschel designs custom lighting, motors, sophisticated security and climate-control systems — whatever it takes to exhibit rare objects for decades. He has received several patents for an intricate metal device known as the "Viewall hinge."
"We do once-in-a-lifetime jobs," he said.
Guenschel's 15 employees work out of a nondescript, cinder-block building that doesn't even bear the company's name. Inside is a metal fabrication shop, a wood mill, a finishing room and a glass mounting area. For every commission, staffers fabricate the cases inside the plant, then disassemble them for shipment and installation at their final destinations. It takes longer that way, but it's a process that sets the company apart.
Guenschel and Vice President Cynthia Shaffer credit their success to quality control, a focus on the company's core business and passionate employees. They don't disclose financial results.
Although the display cases might be considered works of art in themselves, Guenschel and Shaffer say the goal is to draw attention to the objects inside. "If the case becomes invisible," Shaffer said, "then we have done our job."
Goetze's Candy Co.
For more than a century, Goetze's Candy Co. has been quietly going about its sweet business: making the trademark Caramel Creams and Cow Tales at its East Baltimore factory.
Goetze's got its start when August Goetze bought the Baltimore Chewing Gum Company in 1895. The company changed its name in 1958 to reflect the family business, which was built around the signature caramel treats wrapped around a white fondant center. Today, a fifth generation of the Goetze family runs the company, which distributes worldwide.
"Goetze's product represents an authentic Baltimore experience," said Mike Galiazzo, executive director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland. "Goetze's is to candy what Phillips is to crabs."
But while the company has a robust website recounting its 115-year history and a Facebook page with nearly 40,000 fans who "like" the Baltimore candy maker, the Goetze family has shied away from publicity. Company executive Mitchell Goetze declined to be interviewed, explaining in an e-mail: "We are a very private company.
"It's not that we are not proud of what we have been doing in Baltimore, but a matter of maintaining our humble start and just staying quiet over here on the east side," Goetze wrote.
The company makes all of its candies at its factory on East Monument Street and proudly promotes a "Made in the USA" distinction on its website. The Goetze family, the site says, takes pride in buying materials in the U.S. whenever possible, regardless of price, to support American companies and adhere to strict food safety guidelines.
Goetze's Candy introduced its individually wrapped caramels in 1918. The company's other well-known candy is Cow Tales, a Twizzlers-like version of Caramel Creams that come in flavors like strawberry, vanilla and chocolate.
As for the company's longevity, Mitchell Goetze gave a hint at the secret in the Confectioner trade magazine several years ago, in which he said the prevailing wisdom has been "to grow like an oak tree — slow and steady."
Ray Machine Inc.
Discerning waiters can tell the difference between an authentic table crumber invented in Baltimore and knockoffs made for less in China.
That's one of the first things Daniel P. Solomon, general manager of Ray Machine Inc. in Middle River where the crumber is made, will tell you about the little curved strips of aluminum that for decades have scraped messy linen-clad tables between courses, adding a touch of class to diners' experience.
"The waiters recognize how nice ours are," Solomon said of servers in area restaurants who appreciate the homegrown product. "It's really true. Ours is the best."
All the crumbs have added up to about $85,000 in annual crumber sales for Middle River-based Ray Machine, a metals manufacturer with some $8 million in annual sales supplying companies such as IBM, Lockheed Martin and GE Aerospace.
"It's a small piece of our business, but an important one," Solomon said.
The crumber was invented in 1939 by John Henry Miller, owner of Miller Brothers Restaurant, a fixture on West Fayette Street until 1963. Miller wanted to create a device for his restaurant that could be conveniently carried in a pocket and less cumbersome than the brush and crumb pan favored at the time. He was granted a patent in 1941.
Ray Machine got involved in the crumber business when a former owner bought the patent and slightly redesigned the product to make it easier to mass-produce.
Today, Ray Machine sells about 85,000 crumbers a year at 60 cents to $1 apiece, depending upon quantity, and ships the products worldwide in the original silver as well as six other colors.
This year, the company started farming out some production work, but workers in Middle River still attach the clips by punch press — at a pace of eight to 10 a minute — and then laser engraves logos.
While some customers are restaurants, bigger orders tend to come from corporations and institutions looking to display their logo on a promotional product. Such customers have included MasterCard, a Geneva hotel and a culinary institute.
Even with no advertising, the customers keep coming. (Though the Internet, where crumbers can be purchased by the dozen, has helped.)
"We've never promoted it," Solomon said. "This is sold solely on word of mouth."
Vanns Spices Ltd.
The air is more parts spice than oxygen. Nick Ciotti is so used to it, he can barely smell it anymore.
Inside Vanns Spices' compact headquarters in Woodlawn, workers blend ingredients and package the finished products as Ciotti, vice president of operations, talks numbers. The spice maker labors in the shadow of Sparks-based McCormick, but that's worked out just fine.
Revenue rose 15 percent in 2010, Ciotti said. The private company expects similar growth this year.
Vanns began in 1981, founded by a teacher who turned a spice-mixing hobby into a business. Now the company employs 42 workers and makes about 2,500 blends — largely for other retailers under their brand names, a practice known as "private label."
"Most of our business is private label, so actually trying to find our Vanns-labeled product in stores can be a bit of a challenge," Ciotti said.
(One place you can buy the Vanns label locally: Eddie's of Roland Park, a gourmet grocer.)
The Vanns headquarters, just inside the Baltimore Beltway, is part office, part warehouse, part manufacturing facility. It's packed full of spices, from old reliables like cinnamon to a raft of exotic offerings. Chile peppers from Syria. Tikka masala, an Indian spice blend. Ras el hanout, a North African mixture that Ciotti calls a "hodgepodge of high-end products" from cardamom to nutmeg to cloves.
Hard-to-find blends are Vanns' niche, a key reason the company is doing well.
"It's a great segment," Ciotti said. "People are becoming more adventurous in their use of spice in everyday cooking."
Vanns' start here was happenstance: Founder Ann Wilder, who was bought out by partners in 2006 and died in 2009, lived in the Baltimore area. But the region has proved a good place to stay, Ciotti said. The company can import spices from around the world through the port of Baltimore. And it's easy to find experienced workers — one of the advantages of a location near a big competitor.
"There's a large pool of seasoned spice-industry employees out there to choose from," Ciotti said.
—Jamie Smith Hopkins
Decades ago, lacrosse players ran the field with sticks made of solid wood and a rawhide pocket. When the handle or the head broke, the entire stick would have to be replaced.
Then in 1970, William T. Burnett Co., a manufacturer of polyurethane materials, patented the first plastic head for a lacrosse stick. A year later, STX, a Burnett subsidiary, began making the plastic heads with synthetic-fiber pockets that could be placed on a new wooden handle if the old one snapped.
It was a revolution in design for the lacrosse stick, which essentially hadn't changed from the way Native Americans who originated the sport made them. The innovation also helped diversify Burnett, a maker of foam and insulation materials since the early 1900s, into the unlikely business of sports equipment manufacturing.
"It's one of the most key dates in the history of lacrosse," said Joe Finn, an archivist at the national Lacrosse Museum in Baltimore, referring to STX receiving the patent.
In the 1990s, STX and other lacrosse equipment manufacturers started mounting plastic heads on handles made of other materials, such as metal alloys. These lighter sticks helped make lacrosse a faster sport, as players could whip the ball more quickly toward the goal and their teammates.
"Everything was quicker: the throwing, the shooting, the catching," Finn said.
Burnett started manufacturing lacrosse equipment at a plant in Timonium, and later in Essex. But today, much of the manufacturing of the lacrosse stick components takes place overseas, while the company still assembles some products at its downtown Baltimore headquarters, according to Greg Davis, a Burnett vice president.
STX now sells lacrosse heads and handles as separate products, as well as body protection pads, apparel and accessories. Because it is part of a private company, sales figures for STX products were unavailable.
U.S. Lacrosse, an association based in Baltimore, heralds the game as the country's fastest-growing sport. So, game on for STX as it faces off with competitors such as Brine, Warrior and deBeer, all rushing to get a piece of the action.
—Gus G. Sentementes