When we last visited packaging and aerospace products company Ball Corp. (NYSE:BLL) back in mid-2000, it was restructuring production capacity as it worked to keep costs under control. Business was strong, though shares of the company and its peers were largely out of favor with investors largely looking for higher-growth options.

The story is largely the same for Ball today. Since our last Foolish article, the company has:

  • continued to add and subtract capacity -- perhaps most notably, buying No. 2 European can maker Schmalbach-Lubeca AG in 2002 and renaming the Germany-based operation Ball Packaging Europe

  • kept signing manufacturing contracts for its packaging business -- including a deal with Coors Brewing, a subsidiary of Adolph Coors (NYSE:RKY), a company we looked at last week); and

  • steadily grown its aerospace business into a profitable segment that delivers meaningful revenues.

Investors got their latest look at what all this has meant to Ball this morning, with the company reporting third-quarter financial results. (We're grateful to the company for including full results, meaning an income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement in its press release.)

While 2003 hasn't been a slam-dunk year for the company, where there have been difficulties -- including cool weather that hurt domestic demand for drink containers this year, a Milwaukee high-speed food can production line that's not yet fully online, and a German deposit law that has hurt the drink can business -- Ball seems to have them identified and solutions largely in hand or on the way. The company is optimistic heading into 2004.

Investors have rewarded Ball for its moves. The biggest difference between 2000 and now seems clear as an empty glass Ball jar: The company's shares have risen steadily, strongly, and well over 150% -- blowing away the pace set by the S&P 500. While the shares seem fairly valued based on forward earnings estimates, Ball has a history of strong free cash flow and plans to keep growing. It's a company worth watching.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at dmarnach@fool.com .