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UpRight gets back on its feet Company that makes aerial lifts is back in the Valley with Fresno plant, plans to grow.

Published in: The Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA)
Date: 9/20/2006
By: Tracy Correa

UpRight is once again manufacturing its aerial lifts in Fresno County and plans to expand, adding up to 500 new jobs.

UpRight once had plants in Selma and Madera that employed nearly 800 people. However, the company fell on hard times, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and eventually closed both plants before moving production to Mexico two years ago.

Now, it's back.

In June, United Kingdom-based The Tanfield Group purchased UpRight International's powered access division, and company officials relaunched U.S. production in Fresno.

"The plan is to have a facility that will produce a full line of our machines," said Dan Jenkins, spokesman for Tanfield.

He said Tanfield wants to turn Fresno into its main production facility serving the United States, Canada and Central and Latin America.

Last month, the company began limited production at a 65,000-square-foot plant on Maple Avenue near Jensen Avenue in southeast Fresno. Tanfield acquired the Fresno site -- the only one retained by UpRight -- that had been serving recently as a parts center for the company.

Tanfield recently secured a $1 million work order from an American rental company and is counting on more business increasing production, Jenkins said. The company has back orders "in the pipeline" that it also is filling from Fresno, he said.

The new owners already have doubled UpRight's Fresno work force. It now has about 35 employees. Hundreds more workers could be added if the company reaches its planned full production capacity in the next three years, Jenkins said.

"To run a full line, 500 people would be required over three years," he said. "There is potential to do that."

The company expects to hire employees with machine assembly line production experience, specifically with knowledge about hydraulics and electronics.

The jobs would pay more than $13 an hour, said Tony Arruda, recently hired by Tanfield as UpRight's new general manager in Fresno.

Arruda said hiring won't come right away, increasing only as more production lines open.

For now, the company is producing two lines of its aerial platform lifts. Arruda said scissor lifts and larger lifts, like those used in construction, could be added by Jan. 1. And, if production increases as anticipated, he said, UpRight likely will need to move into a larger site.

Dave Spaur, president of the Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County, said it's rare that a business would leave an area and then return years later.

"But we love it," he said from New York, where he was attending a conference. He called it a great testimonial for Fresno County.

Spaur said he has a lot of faith the company will do well and grow here.

"It's a totally different company. New ownership; funding is stronger," he said.

The Tanfield Group, with annual sales of $22 million, is the parent company of several businesses engaged mainly in the engineering and electric vehicle industries. Among the businesses it owns is platform manufacturer Aerial Access.

Jenkins said Tanfield purchased the division of UpRight International that deals with the machinery production for aerial lifts for about $14 million. He said Tanfield bought the business from The Griffin Group, headed by Australian multimillionaire Rick Stowe. It also acquired UpRight plants in the United Kingdom and Japan.

Even though UpRight struggled in recent years after relocating production to Mexico, Tanfield believes there is room to grow and build on UpRight's long-standing reputation, Jenkins said.

The move to Mexico never made much sense, he said: "If you are going to be competitive in the states, you have to be in the states." Likewise, he said it also wouldn't make sense to make the aerial lifts at Tanfield production plants in Europe and ship them to the United States.

Selma City Manager D-B Heusser said he was contacted by UpRight's new owners a few months ago about moving back to Selma.

"We didn't have the space they needed," he said.

UpRight's former Selma site -- about 360,000 square feet of factory and office -- now houses several businesses that together employ about 350 people. After the bankruptcy filing, UpRight lost the property when it reverted to the city's Public Finance Authority. The city holds the title to the property because of bonds it issued for construction of the plant. UpRight's 290,000-square-foot Madera plant was sold last year.

Heusser said Selma would have welcomed UpRight, at one time the city's largest employer, but simply didn't have a site it could move into.

"We would love to have them in Selma, but we are just glad they came back to the area," he said. "They are here in the area, and for us, that is the key."

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