By Christopher Selmek firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles about local manufacturing and global impact.
The Sarica Manufacturing Company is a relatively recent addition to the manufacturing companies doing business in Champaign County. CEO Steve Schneider founded the company in June 2005 with his wife, Connie, and since then has acquired two additional companies that each have customers all over the world.
“My wife is actually 51 percent owner of Sarica, so we started the company just her and I,” Schneider said. “We did this and we grew it from there with a couple other employees, so Sarica is a total start-up in 2005. We started in our original building, which was at 116 E. Court, and then grew from there.”
Sarica is an electronics manufacturing services provider that builds electronics, particularly for the aerospace industry. Hughey & Phillips produces airport lighting and obstruction lighting, such as lights on cell phone towers and water towers. Eisen Works, the more recent acquisition, performs mechanical assembly that supports its own customer base as well as that of the other two companies. All have offices here in Urbana.
Growing the business
Schneider originally came to Urbana in 1986 to work in electronics manufacturing for Honeywell Grimes Aerospace. In 1996 he left Honeywell to work for Monarch Marking Systems in Dayton, where he worked with barcode systems. Then in 2004 he left that company to begin working on his own venture, which would become Sarica.
“We did not have a plan to sell things overseas,” he said. “For the first couple years I was just hoping the fax machine would go off every day to try to get an order from customers that I had done business with at either Honeywell, during my tenure at Honeywell, or during my tenure at Monarch Marking Systems to build electronics for them. The first couple years were very difficult, we were not near as prosperous as we are today.”
By 2009 orders were abundant. Hefty growth had started around 2008, and the first international customers arrived around 2010.
“We started doing business with a company in Singapore that was looking for electronics, that was a supplier to some
of my existing customer base,” Schneider said. “That’s kind of what happens. We don’t have any real sales force. Our customers refer us to their supply chain, and so it just grows from there. They were producing a part for somebody else and they needed somebody to produce electronics, so they called us and we started doing business with them in 2010. They are still a customer today.”
The company in Singapore specifically was looking for cable harnesses, which Schneider describes as difficult electronic harnesses that go in an airplane application. A harness is a cable that typically has a circular connector on one end that connects a power supply in the aircraft to an avionics unit flight instrument display.
Sarica started doing business with Europe and Israel in 2014 after company representatives attended the Paris Air Show. There, Schneider said they were approached by several companies interested in finding a U.S. source for products.
“A lot of it has to do with FMF funding - Foreign Military Financing,” Schneider said. “What’s done on that is that the United States government will provide to countries funds for their own selfdefense. But there’s a contingency on those funds, whatever they’re going to go buy for self-defense, that money has to be spent 100 percent back in the U.S, so that’s what started it. We were and still are today a supplier to the Department of Defense, so we had all the pedigrees, all the things that are a requirement in FMF funding. Companies or countries that get this funding from the United States… they then have to spend that money in the United States, so it’s kind of good that it comes back to us.”
Israel was particularly interested in developing Patriot Advanced Capability – or PAC-3 missiles, which Sarica had developed for some of its existing customer base, so Schneider said that he and these defense companies were a good match for one another.
“They don’t want to go to just anybody and have to train them on how to build stuff to these other engineering drawings,” he said. “We knew how to do this, and we had the pedigree and the specifications and the certifications already in place, so it was a good fit.”
Israel comes to Ohio
The Dayton Development Corporation hosted a seminar to introduce local businesses to the Israeli Ministry of Defense in September. Several times before, Schneider said, he had been asked to speak at these kinds of events, but always he had been traveling outside the area. This time he was available and spoke before 50-70 people before bringing some of them to Urbana for a tour.
“It was very interesting, a lot of folks who were in the audience were trying to get FMF funding business from companies in Israel, and a lot of them had just started the quoting process with companies which were already customers of ours,” he said. “Now that we’ve started doing business in Israel we have business with a few companies over there.
“Folks from Ministry of Defense that were there did not know a whole lot about Sarica, and did not realize I had been doing all this work over there for all this time,” he continued. “So they were very interested in coming here and doing a plant tour and taking a look at that.”
Schneider said each of his three companies has different markets and that he spends much of his time making trips specific to one customer base.
“All three of those companies are parked in different markets,” he said. “Sarica is primarily parked in aerospace, so it’s dealing with customers who are either defense or in international military, or who are in aerospace companies like Airbus, Boeing and Honeywell. Hughey & Phillips produces a product that none of it goes on an airplane. So Sarica primarily produces a product that goes on defense vehicles or on airplanes. Hughey & Phillips is all ground bases, so its customers are completely different. Those customers are airports, government contracts, that are bidding projects that are a new cell phone tower or a new building in Dubai, and all over the world.”
Hughey & Phillips, which Schneider acquired from Honeywell in 2009, has since added three additional companies and continues to be a growth and acquisition-based company. That company has locations not only in Urbana, but also in Mansfield, Ohio, Lakeland, Florida, and now Fort Lauderdale.
“In the case of Hughey & Phillips, we just acquired a company in Fort Lauderdale formerly called Astronics, and this is a game changer for us because it puts us on a whole different plateau in the airport market,” he said. “Customers before, when they came to Hughey & Phillips, we might have only been able to supply maybe 10 of their product lines on the airport. Today those customers and those contractors can come to us and we can supply the whole airport with everything that they need. That’s a game changer, and it’s starting to happen to us already with getting lots of new opportunities to go big, where before it wasn’t as attractive.”
Schneider said Eisen Works, as a mechanical assembly company, has a smaller footprint than the other companies. He said that company currently has more work than they can handle and that if he could hire additional people for that organization he would be able to take on even more contracts.
“They have the same pedigree as Sarica, so they’re parked in the Aerospace account,” he said. “They have their own customers, a lot of those same customers are Sarica customers, but they also have their own customer base where they do very intricate, like Swiss watch, mechanical assemblies. It’s a very narrow client base that they have because of where they want to be parked at, but they do have some medical customers that need precision instruments, very small. They’re doing very well, they’re growing also, but it’s an order of magnitude difference from the other companies.”
“We are continuing to grow,” Schneider said. “It’s very positive. The market is very good right now, both domestically and internationally for our products, and in the case of Sarica … if we didn’t take another order tomorrow, we have enough backlog today to produce more sales in 2020 than we did in 2019.
“It’s done very well, and that’s a testimonial to everybody that works here,” he continued. “I wish I could say that I’m the greatest salesperson in the world to convince all these customers to buy products from us, but it really has nothing to do with that. We have no real sales force and I’m not very good at it. What customers continue to do is go to Sarica because we do what we say we’re going to do and our product lasts for a very long time.”
Schneider said that the main reason his customers stay with Sarica is because — as one of his customers said — “with Sarica we get the product, and you’re the first electronics supplier we’ve had that we did not have to send product back.”
“We’ve built all these companies on their ability to do what we say,” Schneider added. “We don’t want to hire a bunch of people and then lay back off. That is not what we’re doing here and it’s not what we’re about. If we can find good, steady, sustained growth we’re going to do it. In the case of Eisen Works they get lots of opportunities to produce thousands and thousands of parts, and then that order disappears and they don’t have that again until maybe next year. We don’t want to staff up in a seasonal type of business, like they do for Christmas holidays and folks that work at department stores. When we hire somebody we want them to be here until they retire.”
According to Schneider, the Urbana plant produces about 230 different part numbers every month, so employees are always working on something different and the work is not repetitive.
“A lot of times when people talk about manufacturing they think they’re sitting on an assembly line and just putting the same part on the same part all day long,” said Lin Giampetro, Sarica’s manager of culture development. “Here they do kit builds, so they get a kit that has everything in it, build the entire product, and like Steve said they might be working on one job for a couple days, and then they’re done with it, and then the next thing is completely different.”
Schneider added that they were lucky to be located in central Ohio, with many of their employees traveling to work from throughout Champaign County, Clark County, and the Columbus area. “There are great resources that are available in this area,” he said. “Unfortunately, what has happened over the last decade is there’s been a lot of manufacturing companies that have boarded up their doors and moved to China, or put it offshore someplace else. A lot of those folks are still here and they’re excellent, they’ve got a great work ethic, they know how to read engineering drawings, they’ve got a good ability to work on some of the most sophisticated electronics in the world that we produce right here in Urbana, Ohio.”
Sarica has about 85 employees in Urbana and about 120 total in Ohio, but is always looking to increase the workforce with good assemblers, solderers and machinists. For more information about job opportunities, e-mail lgiampetro@saricamfg. com.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304
“There are great resources that are available in this area. Unfortunately, what has happened over the last decade is there’s been a lot of manufacturing companies that have boarded up their doors and moved to China, or put it offshore someplace else. A lot of those folks are still here and they’re excellent, they’ve got a great work ethic, they know how to read engineering drawings, they’ve got a good ability to work on some of the most sophisticated electronics in the world that we produce right here in Urbana, Ohio.”
-Sarica CEO Steve Schneider
The CEP hosted a breakfast and awards ceremony last week to review recent successes and recognize manufacturing firms for their efforts in Champaign County. So far this year, local firms have invested more than $80 million and added more than 100 new jobs, mostly through expansions, said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the CEP.
Much of that success is the result of local companies working together to resolve common challenges, like training and worker retention, she said.
“For the manufacturing partnership we’ve created, we’re seeing the results of that,” Bailey said.
Several Champaign County companies announced expansions earlier this year. Most recently, Weidmann Electrical Technology Inc. said last month it will add about 2,600 square feet to its facility at 700 W. Court St. in Urbana. The company, which produces specialty insulation for transformers, will also add 20 new jobs and spend at least $500,000 in new equipment as part of an expansion valued at around $2.7 million.
Navistar also broke ground on a roughly $12 million project to build a new distribution center and add 40 new jobs in Champaign County. Auto parts manufacturers like KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris and Parker Trutec also announced significant investments and expansions in the past 12 months.
Area companies and the CEP have developed several programs to boost the county’s workforce, Bailey said, and there is some evidence that’s paying off. But she said it’s also clear there’s still more work to do.
Attendance at a camp hosted by the Champaign Family YMCA has tripled its attendance since it started three years ago, Bailey said. The Inventor’s Camp enlists local manufacturing firms to teach students about skilled trades.
Manufacturers also host a booth at the Champaign County Fair to make residents more aware of the products made in Champaign County. And the CEP worked with local companies to develop a website allowing local businesses to post jobs available within the county. Manufacturers have also increasingly sought to provide internships to area high school students to make them more aware of careers in the industry.
Information provided by the CEP shows that the efforts appear to be attracting more young workers. In 2015, only about 5 percent of workers in the industry in Champaign County were between 19 and 24 years old, Bailey said. That number was about 9 percent this year.
Still, attracting skilled workers remains a challenge, she said.
“There’s not a competitions for products,” she said of local companies. “But we need the workforce to get those products out.”
By the numbers:
3,832 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2015
3,725 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2016
4,029 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2017
$64,021 — Average earnings for manufacturing in 2017
By the numbers:
3,832 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2015
3,725 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2016
4,029 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2017
$64,021 — Average earnings for manufacturing in 2017
By Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen Staff Writer
A Fastlane survey of Champaign County manufacturing engineers and their employers reveal that more than 4,000 county residents are employed in manufacturing and that the average wage for county manufacturing employees is $64,000 a year.
This information was presented to around 30 representatives of area manufacturing companies and their allies in education and government who attended a breakfast hosted by the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP) at the County Community Center on Wednesday.
According to the slideshow presented by county Economic Director Marcia Bailey, the purpose of the Manufacturing Human Resources Council is to provide education and awareness to the community and public schools regarding manufacturing opportunities in Champaign County.
"Our HR council started about 6 years ago, and we said this is what our goal was going to be, and we've stayed at this goal, and we're starting to see how much change actually has happened in the perception of what manufacturing is about," Bailey said. "That's what this is all about, changing that perception."
In the 3 years since we've joined the partnership, the excitement from the manufacturing industry in particular has been just overwhelming, and there's so much potential," said Todd Michael, president of the Champaign Economic Partnership. "It used to be that the goal was to bring in more manufacturing or more businesses, but it's just as important to have employees and to have educated employees. So it's chicken and the egg and we're trying to bring both simultaneously for good, steady, structured growth.
Mostly Men in Local Manufacturing Jobs
Bailey noted that the male-to-female ratio of employees is unbalanced, but that some area manufacturers like Sarica Manufacturing like to have female employees because of the intricate nature of the work and because female hands are smaller.
"Ninety percent of our engineers are males so we keep telling the young females you have a great opportunity in Champaign County to become engineers in manufacturing," she said. "We need more females in manufacturing. It's also important that the students understand that this is the income you can make as an engineer in manufacturing in Champaign County, $37 to almost $41 an hour, which is not chump change. We're trying to get as much of this out as possible and really appreciate Fastlane for gathering this information."
Within the last several years there has been an increase in workers ages 19-24 at county manufacturing companies, and Bailey said she hopes this number increases. Part of the CEP's outreach to area youth has included a YMCA camp called "Inventor's Workshop," in which area manufacturers lead children ages 6-12 in projects such as building Lego block towers and transistor radios.
Other outreach efforts include a booth at the Champaign County Fair and the annual Manufacturing Day event, held last Friday, in which high school students toured local manufacturing companies.
"Everything that's around as of today was made by someone, and it's just amazing to learn that," Bailey said.
Near the end of the breakfast, the county commissioners presented proclamations to several of the company representatives, thanking them for their service to the community.
"I just want to say thank you to all the companies and manufacturers and businesses that are represented here and those who might not have been able to make it," said Commissioner Steve Hess. "You guys are a big part of the engine that drives this county, so thank you for all your contributions to the community and all that you do. Keep up the good work."
Local manufacturers took center stage on Tuesday at the county Community Center during a “Manufacturers Thank You Breakfast” hosted by the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP).
The event, attended by state and local officials and representatives from some of the county’s 18 manufacturing companies, was organized by the CEP to “honor and thank the employers for their dedication to Champaign County.”
“Almost everybody that is represented in this room on the manufacturing side has either had growth this past year – whether it be employees, expansion or new investment in equipment – or is getting ready to,” said CEP Economic Development Director Marcia Bailey.
The list of manufacturing companies in the county includes Bundy Baking Solutions, WEIDMANN, KTH, Ultra-met, The Hall Company, Rosewood Machine and Tool Company (RMT), Advanced Technology Products (ATP), Sarica Manufacturing, ORBIS Corporation, Desmond-Stephan Manufacturing, Hughey & Phillips, Parker Trutec, Rittal, Johnson Welded Products (JWP), Robert Rothschild Farm, Colepak, International Fiber Corporation and Honeywell Aerospace.
Bailey remarked that even with an ever-growing list of manufacturers in the county, no one is in stiff competition with the other and, in some cases, local companies are helping one another.
“The uniqueness is still there in that none of you make the same product and some of you are each other’s customer, so we want to continue that,” she said. “We want to continue the diversity that we have and bring more people here.”
Three local manufacturers were highlighted during the event for reaching anniversary milestones in 2015.
Urbana Mayor Bill Bean and Champaign County Commissioners Steve Hess, Bob Corbett and Dave Faulkner jointly presented Ultra-met (50 years in business), JWP (45 years in business) and KTH (30 years in business) with “Keeping Champaign County Strong” proclamations in recognition of their “long-standing dedication and service to the community.”
“We thought it was unique that three companies are celebrating anniversaries all in the same year,” Bailey said.
Representatives from the three companies were also presented with pumpkins from the CEP painted by local artist Vicki Deere-Bunnell. Each pumpkin was decorated with the company’s logo and fall scenes.
Also in attendance was Sandra Brasington, the western Ohio regional liaison for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office, who presented each manufacturer with a proclamation signed by Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
“On behalf of the governor’s office, we want to thank you for your investment in Ohio as businesses in manufacturing,” Brasington said. “You guys are the ones making it happen, so we really want to thank each of you.”
Brasington also thanked the county’s manufacturers for “changing lives” for the thousands of workers they employ.
“You are making a difference,” she said. “You guys are doing a great job here in Champaign County, and we want to recognize that.”
Bailey presented data showing job creation is on the rise. In 2013, Champaign County manufacturers employed 2,928 people, and by 2014, the number rose to 3,487. As of September of this year, Bailey said, the number of employees working in the county’s manufacturing sector stands at 3,832.
“We’ve had over 900 jobs created in a three-year time period just here in Champaign County in manufacturing,” she said.
(Pictured above: Champaign County Commissioner Steve Hess presents Lilli Ann Johnson, president of Johnson Welded Products (JWP), with a “Keeping Champaign County Strong” proclamation during Tuesday’s “Manufacturers Thank You Breakfast” hosted by the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP) at the county Community Center in Urbana. From left are Urbana Mayor Bill Bean, Hess, Johnson and Rachel Lewis, CEP administrative assistant. )
The city of Urbana and Champaign County are asking the private sector to help raise money for economic development efforts in the county.
As part of that, Champaign County plans to quadruple what it currently spends on economic development, County Commissioner Steve Hess said.
Currently Marcia Bailey works 28 hours a week as the economic development director for the county and city.
“It is a full-time business being run part-time,” Urbana Mayor Bill Bean said.
Local leaders now hope to create a partnership between the county, city and private sector called the Champaign Economic Partnership, or CEP.
“Economic development to me is one of the most single important issues, not only in Urbana, but Champaign County,” Bean said.
Bean and Hess presented the partnership proposal on Tuesday to representatives from the banking, education, real estate, manufacturing and health care fields, and leaders from Champaign County townships and villages.
Champaign County cut its budget for economic development in 2011. Hess voted against the cuts in 2011, but said he believes the county will re-dedicate $1 from every conveyance fee now used for the general fund budget back into an economic development fund.
The county was spending $25,000 a year on economic development and believes the new conveyance fees will raise an additional $75,000 a year.
Champaign County said it will give $50,000 to the CEP and save the other $50,000 for special projects.
The city has pledged to give $50,000 as well to the partnership and hopes the private sector will match the government agencies, Bean said.
The CEP is expected to be fully functioning by Jan 1. 2015, Bailey said.
One of the businesses that was a catalyst for the partnership was Pioneer Electric, Bailey said.
Pioneer hosted the presentation and was the business to donate to the CEP, giving $15,000.
“We believe strongly in economic development,” Pioneer Electric CFO Aaron Stallings said.
Pioneer benefits when any new business comes into the county, he said, because it will use the company’s power or their employees will use the electricity.
The money raised by the partnership will go toward hiring staff, boosting Urbana’s web presence and recruiting businesses and employees, Bailey said.
Rick Finkbine, executive vice president of Sarica Manufacturing, said his company spends a lot of time recruiting and educating employees about manufacturing jobs.
He said he hopes the partnership will help with those efforts.
“Manufacturing is a different industry than many people perceive it to be,” Finkbine said. “We spend a lot of time recruiting, talking to people about the new kind of manufacturing, which is much more modern and clean than they may believe.”
Sarica would be interested in being part of the partnership, he said, because more companies in Urbana can benefit everyone.
“We would like to shorten the supply chain. The longer the supply chain the more costly it is. The more inflexible it is. Additional business around us would benefit us on a supply chain,” Finkbine said. “Obviously it would open up opportunities for additional customers also.”