MIDDLETON — Three years ago, the owner of Salem Metal Inc. was approached by the developer of a new industrial park along Route 114 about moving his business across town.
At first, Jason Vining, president and CEO of the growing precision sheet metal manufacturer, was hesitant.
"There is never really a good time to move," Vining, 42, of Middleton, said. Among other reasons, there's the expense of moving specialized equipment. "But, I think this was a very calculated risk and proved to be beneficial."
On Sept. 12, Salem Metal held an open house at its new, 75,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 177 N. Main St., Building 200, in that new industrial park. The cavernous space has high ceilings, air conditioning and room for new, high-tech automated equipment.
Salem Metal is known as a "job shop" — it provides panels, brackets, enclosures and sub-assemblies to other manufacturers in the electronic, computer, testing and medical industries. They make chassis for heart pumps, sheet metal components for blood analyzing machines and parts for defibrillators, among other things.
Vining's father and the business' founder, Executive Vice President James Vining, had moved the business to Middleton 32 years ago, where the company built a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Lonergan Road. Eventually, it ran out of room there and and began also leasing a building across the street.
The move to Route 114 has allowed the company to add more robotic equipment, such as a $450,000 Mitsubishi 12-shelf automated material tower, which can automatically laser cut parts from sheet metal loaded onto one of its racks. The company was also able to bring its 70-person workforce under one roof.
Many of the employees have been with Salem Metal for 15 years or more. Among them is Jimmy White of Peabody, a punch press turret operator who is in his 30th year with the company.
"I've been working here a long time, so it gave us a lot of room that we've needed," White said of the move.
North Shore Chamber of Commerce President Robert Bradford, who attended the open house, was impressed with the Vinings' work.
"A very impressive company, the type of company we are proud to have on the North Shore," he said.
More on the move
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said officials are pleased Salem Metal is staying in town, at the small business park built by local developer Brent McKennelly of Bay Development. The new industrial park, Sheehan said, was built in an area of town that was "in need of a bit of revitalization."
For Middleton, Sheehan said, Salem Metal provides much needed commercial and industrial tax revenue to help offset residential taxes. The town does not have a split tax rate (the rate is $13.69 per $1,000 of assessed value), which also makes the town attractive to businesses.
At first, Jason Vining said, the thought of moving was overwhelming. But eventually, company officials liked the idea of being in a new building with a new, efficient layout for their machines.
"Middleton does not have a lot of industrial space," Jason Vining said, "and Salem Metal has always been a supporter of the town and involved in the community, and the opportunity to do that, and even move to this new facility, the stars just seemed to have aligned, and we knew that the time was now to make the move."
Jason Vining said the developer completed the site work and built the shell of the building, while Salem Metal hired an architect and general contractor to complete the inside. The building is a commercial condominium, according to the deed, and it is owned by J&V Realty Trust, of which the Vinings are co-trustees.
The building is 90,000 square feet on the first floor and 5,000 square feet on the second floor, Jason Vining said. Salem Metal is leasing 70,000 square feet on the first floor and the entire second floor. The remainder of the building is being leased to another outfit, but Salem Metal could potentially take over that space at some point.
At the opposite end of the industrial park, another large building will become the new home of Regal Fabrics, which creates woven and print upholstery. Sheehan said the company operates on Birch Road, off Log Bridge Road, and a warehouse on South Main Street, but will be consolidating in the new building.
Salem Metal was founded in 1970 by James Vining, who grew up in Malden where he attended trade school to become a machinist. He began working as a machinist, then joined the Air Force from 1964 to 1968, where he worked as a dental hygienist with a hospital squadron.
After he got out of the Air Force, James Vining went back to being a machinist. He was hired by his future father-in-law at a business called Pic's Screw Machine on Canal Street in Salem.
One day, his father-in-law came to him with a proposition.
"So I started doing sheet metal brackets and panels and things of that nature, and my father-in-law's customer wanted more and more," James Vining said. "Then he wanted brackets with more holes. Then he wanted bigger brackets and this thing just mushroomed."
After about six months, they formed a new company — Salem Metal Fabricators Inc. — and it moved next door. James Vining was the owner.
They worked out of Salem until a five-alarm fire in 1986 destroyed the building. The company moved to Tozer Road in Beverly for a year while James Vining found a new location, on Lonergan Road in Middleton, and had a new building built there.
In 2009, Jason Vining took over the day-to-day operations and became the company's sole owner and president. He had worked on the production floor in high school and spent summers in college learning the business. He had become vice president of the company in 1998.
James Vining is still active in the company and helped with the planning for the new building, which Jason said was financed with the help of a tax-exempt industrial revenue bond from MassDevelopment and help from TD Bank.