Miller Metal plans large plant expansion in Bridgeville
BRIDGEVILLE — Miller Metal Fabrication, a Delaware success story when it comes to growing business and pivoting during the pandemic, plans to build a $4 million warehouse and expand out of the one it’s utilized for 14 years.
With hopes to break ground in 2021, a new 60,000-square-foot warehouse will give the manufacturer room to grow its operations on a 25-acre parcel at the intersection of U.S. Route 13 and Newton Road, next to its existing warehouse. The new facility will double its existing space.
Miller Metal Fabrication senior account manager Martin Miller III said the hope is to relocate up to seven employees out of its Greensboro, Md., branch to the new Delaware facility. Plans submitted to the Sussex County Planning and Zoning Department show a 7,320-square-foot office adjacent to the proposed warehouse.
“We’re a small business that’s growing steadily, and since we added the laser machine, we’ve been adding more equipment to keep ahead of the industry,” Miller III told the Delaware Business Times. “There’s some out there who say robots will take over the world, and I don’t say that’s true. They have a place in helping us run leaner and shorter runs, but it’s also added skills for our employees.”
In addition to the relocated Maryland positions, Miller III told the Delaware Business Times that the company is looking to hire roughly seven more employees. That includes three press brake operators immediately and another two within the next month when a $1.5 million laser cutting machine arrives.
Ideally, Miller Metal plans on bringing 103 employees in total to its new Bridgeville warehouse next year. That shows 194% percent growth in its employment base in the last 12 years. In 2008, the company had about 35 employees.
In an Oct. 20 meeting with the Sussex County Council, Martin Miller III stressed that the project was more focused on getting the company additional space as it continues to expand services. Miller Metal provides state-of-the-art, computer-aided design (CAD), as well as laser cutting, bending, machining, welding and assembly services for the Mid-Atlantic region.
“We’ve outgrown the current building, and it’s time for us to step up,” Martin Miller III told the council. “We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years, and we’ve really invested in technology, and we see robotics as the way of the future.”
Miller Metal was founded in 1984 by Martin Miller Jr., a food processing equipment inventor who created manufacturing solutions such as machines that twisted pretzels and packed potatoes. Translating that success in machinery, Miller Metal first started as a 2,500-square-foot shop in a Bridgeville backyard.
Nine years later, the business relocated to a warehouse in Harrington and later partnered with material handling solutions company O.A. Newtown Material Handling Solutions in Bridgeville and headed back south. To date, Miller Metal has an agreement where it manufacturers the steel brackets and provides other assorted services for O.A. Newtown.
Per 2020 figures, Miller Metal does about $18 million in sales annually, and historic customers include Volvo, Vulcan, Baltimore Aircoil, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The true game-changer came in 2006 when Miller Metal bought its first laser-cutting machine that put out parts twice as fast as the shop did before. Now the company has five machines. Since that watershed moment, its willingness to adapt has put it ahead of the curve, and the COVID-19 pandemic was no exception.
Miller III said that while the world seemed to be at a standstill earlier this year, the company served as a subcontractor for ventilator parts headed to New York City. The “bridge” ventilator design was rapidly approved by federal regulators, and Miller Metal was charged with making chassis components, according to the manufacturing trade publication The Fabricator.
“We did get a little nervous with the uncertainty going on at the time. It was like the industry stopped and tried to figure out what would happen next,” Miller III said. “But that contract work kept us going, and then the calls came back. It’s like everyone was taken aback, and now it’s playing catch-up. We’re very fortunate.”
Under the expansion plans, Miller Metal will buy the 24 acres from Rob Rider Jr., president of O.A. Newton in Bridgeville. Earlier this year, the project also received $313,000 from the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund (TIIF) Council to construct a new entrance that will not disrupt traffic on Newton Road.
The Sussex County Council approved rezoning the 25-acre parcel from general commercial to light industrial use on Oct. 20. Pending permits and weather during the winter, Miller Metal plans to move by early 2022.
By Katie Tabeling