Like many Maryland manufacturers, Zentech endured tough times during the recession, laying off about 15 people. But now, Turpin said, the company, formed in 1999, is positioned for steady growth and might add 20 to 40 employees over the next 18 months.
Domestic contract manufacturing has remained strong in some areas despite the economic downturn and broader off-shoring trend, says John Tuck, editor of Manufacturing Market Insider.
"It's a business that's still quite vibrant," he said. "There are customers such as defense companies that want manufacturing done for security reasons in the United States. The same goes for some medical products. There is a demand for contract manufacturing in the U.S. in certain markets."
It's in those niche areas that Zentech operates. It counts 10 Maryland companies as customers, including a Becton, Dickinson & Co. medical diagnostics subsidiary, a Northrop Grumman Corp. division and NovaSom, whose diagnostic equipment is used by patients in their homes to measure the severity of sleep apnea. Last year, Zentech built more than 2,800 of the devices for NovaSom.
Zentech posted $21 million in revenue in 2010, a decline from 2008 when it had $26 million, the highest in its history. But revenue this year is forecast at $27 million to $30 million, according to the company.
Turpin concedes that some major American companies that need to produce tens of millions of products might see economies of scale in producing them in Asian factories.
But, he says, there are also many American companies that specialize in highly technical electronics, or biomedical diagnostic equipment, for which quality control and engineering collaboration are more significant factors.
"A lot of these jobs that are going overseas," Turpin says, "can be done here."