PIGEON, MI (USA) - Since 2000, Huron County has lost factory jobs, paychecks and people, making unwanted news as one of Michigan's leading population losers.
Heavy machinery moving earth near Pigeon, though, could help reverse the trend.
Bulldozers preparing the soil for the new Blue Diamond Steel Casting LLC foundry - carrying up to 200 new jobs - ''shows there's a little bit of promise out there,'' said Russell R. Lundberg, Huron County's director of building and zoning.
''There are so many companies and so many families moving out of Michigan and Huron County - maybe we'll get a couple people to move back in,'' Lundberg said.
Leroy M. Wurst, majority owner of Huron Casting Inc. - a Pigeon corporation that owns Blue Diamond Steel Casting - said he expects the Blue Diamond foundry to begin operations by late November.
Wurst anticipates hiring 25 workers at the outset, but said close to 200 could work there.
Lundberg said his chats with foundry representatives indicate the 208,000-square-foot plant eventually will run three shifts, with about 66 workers per shift.
''It's not if - but when - the foundry runs three shifts,'' Lundberg said.
Leroy Wurst said he doesn't yet know how job applicants should go about applying for work at Blue Diamond, which will make steel parts used in oil-field equipment and in heavy machinery.
''We'll train people, but the employees we're always looking for are those skilled at mechanics, maintenance people and electricians,'' Wurst said.
Wurst said Huron Casting Inc. also owns Huron Casting International, an entity developing a new foundry complex in China, west of Shanghai.
''We've lost a lot of jobs to the Chinese-owned foundries,'' Wurst said. ''We're going to go after some of that work.''
Huron Casting Inc.'s customers have demanded that a share of castings get made in China - with lower costs for labor - according to Brian Dunwoodie, Huron Casting's vice president of operations.
''Our customers want the cost benefit - that's what they're looking for,'' Dunwoodie said.
Part of Huron Casting International's new 409,000-square-foot foundry complex in China could open by the end of this year.
''Rather than lose work to some other foundry over there, we might as well make the products ourselves,'' Dunwoodie said. ''We'll have the same types of controls that we have at our foundries here.''
Huron Casting Inc. owns two area subsidiaries - Arenac Casting Inc. in Standish and Axis Machining Inc. in Pigeon. Sturm said Huron Casting Inc. tries to diversify, attempting to let no one customer account for 25 percent of production.
Lundberg welcomed the fact a corporation has chosen to build a new plant in Huron County, and said Huron Casting Inc. has strived to use local contractors at the new site.
''Finally, things are coming together a little bit,'' Lundberg said. ''Hopefully, the county has hit its low point.''