One vote for optimism in an old foundry town

The American auto industry is still sorting out its expectations for 2011. It is one part optimism and one part uncertainty.

Dan Minor is one of the optimistic ones.

Minor, who owns an iron-castings plant in Virginia, is doing something that bigger and better-known auto parts suppliers are afraid to do: He is turning the lights back on at one of the many parts plants left cold and dark last year during the bleak months of the industry crash.

The decade-old New River Foundry in Radford, Va., closed two weeks before Christmas last year, throwing 76 people out of work, after its owner at the time, Intermet Corp., file for Chapter 11 reorganization.

Minor, also CEO of Cadillac Casting Co. in Cadillac, Mich., and a group of investors bought New River out of bankruptcy this year. They are spending the holiday season carefully nursing the plant back to pre-crash levels, supplying differential casings.

The auto market is heating back up as winter rages. Expectations are high. Ramping up is going to require suppliers everywhere -- from the giants to the small shops you never hear about -- to take some bold steps forward. Building and delivering more vehicles will require more parts production.

The market had a nice rebound this year as shell-shocked consumers were coaxed back into dealerships. In the coming year, it will be suppliers who are looking for a little coaxing to get the industry ready for the next level.