Little Precision Inc. is in the vanguard of the 2009-11 manufacturing revival that has led the halting economic recovery.
The Brooklyn Center company, which designs and manufactures magnetic components for applications that range from avionics to heat pumps to pacemakers, is headed toward a record year that could top $24 million in sales and local employment has topped 100 as the company prepares to move into a larger building next door.
"We're excited," said President Dave Anderson, 56, also a co-owner who joined the company as a technician in 1976. "'Our people are the key. We haven't done everything right, but we have to tried to be a good, fair employer and vendor to our customers. We mean what we say."
Most of these types of shops in the U.S. have disappeared since the 2000-02 telecommunications bust, and much of the work has moved to lower-cost China.
"This industry was devastated by the manufacturing movement to China and then the collapse of the dot-com and telecom industry," Anderson said. "There are a number of companies in Minnesota and South Dakota that are no longer around.
"We never got into the cheap commodity business. And we stayed close to our customers. We do business with the devil because we have to. We import some product from China. But we do our design and engineering over here. We add our value by controlling design and quality. We try to make China invisible to our customers."
Anderson added that it's also getting more economical to manufacture some parts and products in Minnesota as Chinese labor and global shipping costs increase.
The business, which includes a contingent of 30 workers in Colorado, slumped in 2008 and early 2009, necessitating layoffs and suspension of the 401(k) company match. Management employees took pay cuts. Sales have since rebounded to nearly $2 million a month, pay cuts were repaid with bonuses and this is the second year in a row of pay raises.
Precision is partnering with Dakota County Technical College through a state training grant of $50,000 to expand the pool of skilled technicians who can design and create the latest components in implantable defibrillators, kidney dialysis equipment and cockpit controls.
Precision's long-term customers included Medtronic, Graco, Data Card, Cummins Engine, Honeywell, General Electric, Rockwell International.
"We have a lot of loyalty in our customer engineering ranks because we have great people and we try go the extra step for them," Anderson said. "We do good work, and we still do business on a handshake."
Anderson's partner is Lyle Shaw, a onetime Coopers & Lybrand accountant and consultant. They bought the business in 1990.
"Lyle is the brains and I'm the muscle," quipped Anderson, who graduated from vocational school in Eau Claire, Wis. "We're like oil and water. We have different strengths and our egos don't get in the way of what we need to do as a company."
Greg Buck, the president of Productivity Inc., the largest machine-tool distributor in the Upper Midwest, reports that a record 700 students from various technical schools will attend the biannual "Oktoberfest Tool Show" this week in Plymouth.
"With manufacturing jobs being one of the bright spots for employment, this is the best turnout for our Oktoberfest student day in the last 20 years," Buck said. "Included in the big-top tent is a job fair and a free lunch, minus the German beer. The students will see new standards in manufacturing in the lab-like environments found here and in the better companies. We need good people to make and repair these sophisticated machines."
Fred Zimmerman, retired professor of manufacturing at the University of St. Thomas, regularly attends this show to meet manufacturers, educators, and learn the latest in the trade.
Zimmerman decried our economic shift from manufacturing in the 1980s to 1990s to services and what became a bloated and overleveraged financial sector that darn near took down the economy a few years ago, also is the author of "Manufacturing Works."
"You meet a better class of people in manufacturing," Zimmerman quipped. "No Ponzi schemes or rogue traders.''
No mortgage fraud artists or high-frequency trading hedge fund guys allowed either at this Oktoberfest. More information: www.productivity.com.