WALKER — As industrial production levels continue to rise and West Michigan manufacturers reach full capacity, companies need to decide whether to invest in adding capacity or turn to other organizations in the supply chain.
That capacity void has created opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Jim Niehoff, who recently launched Walker-based Quest Precision LLC earlier this year after a career that spanned businesses in Florida and California.
“Everyone is at capacity so (companies) are looking for extra capacity,” said Neihoff, the company’s president. “I’m coming onto the scene at a great time because I’m going to (offer) that available capacity. The feedback I’m getting from the customer side is, ‘As soon as you get up and running, let us know.’”
Quest Precision plans to focus on machining high-precision, close-tolerance components and inspection gauges for the high-tech sectors such as the aerospace industry, in which Neihoff has experience.
The company recently began courting potential customers after leasing a 6,000-square-foot facility at 2450 Waldorf Ct. NW in Walker. NAI Wisinski of West Michigan brokered the lease for the space.
“6,000 square feet allows me to get a great-looking and running operation going and still allows me a lot of growth potential,” Neihoff said.
So far, Neihoff has invested approximately $150,000 into the facility and the equipment to get the business up and running. As Quest Precision develops its customer base, Neihoff plans to add equipment as necessary.
“The beauty of where I’m at right now is as I develop this thing, I’m able to tailor what I’m acquiring based on what I’m finding out my needs are in this area,” he said.
To serve those customers, Quest Precision also plans to access the region’s pocket of skilled machinists and tool and die workers.
“Honestly, that was a huge part of the motivation for selecting West Michigan,” Neihoff said. “I was originally thinking Detroit, but I started exploring out here and (West Michigan) is the tool and die capital of the world. That’s more important to me than anything — that I’ll be able to find really top-notch talent as the business grows.”
While many companies in West Michigan see the constrained talent pool of skilled trades workers as a barrier to growth, Neihoff said all it takes is a good reputation to attract the best employees.
“It comes down to gaining a reputation for being a notable shop that people want to work at,” he said. “There are guys who will pick a shop they like and stay there for their career, and a lot of that has to do with the management of the shop and how well they take care of their people.”
FILLING A VOID
If Quest Precision does dedicate most of its business to the aerospace industry, it’s likely that the company will remain busy as many programs, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus 8320, are currently running “at full tilt,” said Gavin Brown, executive director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association.
Brown added that companies that bring automotive industry expertise in cost-cutting will do well with aerospace companies, many of which are increasingly turning to their supply chain partners to cut production costs.
“Previously in aerospace if you delivered on time with quality, cost was a third factor that didn’t really come into play as long as you didn’t gouge them too hard,” Brown said. “Now the cost component has moved up to the forefront.”
In running Quest Precision, Neihoff plans to take advantage of his previous managerial experience and career in manufacturing to create a competitive work environment.
“The key is, above all else, to get quality talent and treat them right and make them so when they get up in the morning, they want to be here,” Neihoff said. “Everyone says it’s hard to find good people. Well, it’s hard to keep good people.”
Neihoff hopes to hire two workers immediately to begin filling customer contracts. Quest Precision expects to add four more employees by the end of the year.
Going forward, Quest Precision will take a measured approach to growth while keeping its operations as nimble as possible, Neihoff said. The company projects first-year sales of approximately $200,000, and Neihoff expects the operation to grow to between $2 million and $3 million in annual sales in the next four years.
“Setting up a manufacturing operation is not a get-rich-quick scheme,” Neihoff said. “Everything is so expensive to get up and running, so whatever sales you generate your first couple of years, you’re pouring right back into the operation.”