February 19, 2018
FOCUS: Manufacturing

Talent, prototyping needs lead Southington medical-parts maker to expand

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
Economy Spring Senior Vice President Tim Thompson (far right) and his engineering team review a new customer project.
PHOTO | Contributed
Economy Spring manufactures a broad range of precision metal components for medical applications.

Southington medical-parts maker Economy Spring has been in growth mode for more than two years, but since its parent company is in Illinois, managers initially looked both within and outside Connecticut when weighing where to expand.

Executives explored a dozen sites in the Nutmeg State, but also about a dozen more in the Southeastern, Midwestern and Southwestern U.S., said Tim Thompson, senior vice president of Economy Spring's medical group and the Southington plant's general manager.

The 85,000-square-foot floor space in the company's existing Southington facility at 29 Depaolo Drive, where it makes precision-engineered parts for the medical and pharmaceutical industries, "didn't afford us enough room to keep up with our growth projections," Thompson said. "If we didn't move, we'd run out of room in another two years."

Interested in staying local, Thompson and his colleagues approached the town's and state's economic development officials, and ultimately were able to secure a $3 million state loan for a $7 million expansion and relocation project, which is scheduled to be completed in March 2019.

Economy Spring is relocating to a massive former Pratt & Whitney site at 75 Aircraft Road, where it has inked a 20-year lease. It will more than double its current footprint to 216,000 square feet, Thompson said.

"We have a tremendous workforce here — highly skilled, very dedicated folks — and there was no question in our minds that we needed to work with the state to retain 100 percent of that workforce," Thompson said, describing the interest in staying in Connecticut.

The state loan will help cover equipment and capital improvement expenses, plus relocation costs. In return, Economy Spring and two other Connecticut companies owned by its parent, MW Industries Inc., have promised to retain 282 jobs and create 100 more by Dec. 31, 2021, according to Ed Bona, DECD's business development manager.

"It's like any other deal we do," said Bona. "It's a really good company. They're growing. It's a company we think could keep growing in Connecticut."

CT roots

Economy Spring was founded in Southington in 1973 by Leo Charrette. Rosemont, Ill.-based MW Industries Inc. (MWI) acquired the company in 2011. MWI also owns RAF Electronic Hardware in Seymour and Tri-Star Industries in Berlin.

Economy Spring makes coiled springs and other metal parts chiefly for surgical instruments like laparoscopic devices and auto drug delivery for the pharmaceutical industry. The latter includes the Epinephrine pen and wearable insulin delivery devices, Thompson said.

"Everything we do is made in America. That really resonates with our customers," said Darlene Kober, Economy Spring's senior vice president of marketing and sales.

The expansion and relocation will allow the company to enhance its rapid prototyping of sample products using 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, and triple in size its clean room.

The company develops its products from initial concept through commercialization, Thompson said. Its main customers include major medical-device makers and a Massachusetts contract manufacturer.

"We believe lead times are going to be critical to our future in terms of being a trusted adviser to our customers," he said. "We have rapid prototyping today, just not on a grand scale. Now, we can improve that capability."

Although Thompson declined to discuss corporate revenue, he said Economy Spring has experienced "double-digit" growth.

In fiscal year 2016, the company recorded a 15 percent growth rate; in fiscal year 2017, the rate of growth was 17 percent. The company is again projecting a growth rate of at least 15 percent this fiscal year, he said.

Choosing Connecticut was a relatively easy decision when it came to retaining current employees while developing the next generation of manufacturing talent, he added.

Economy Spring participates in five Connecticut-sponsored apprenticeship programs, and is building relationships with area high schools and technical schools. The company also is a member of the New England Spring Manufacturers' Association, which is focused on labor shortages across the industry, he said.

"We have a fantastic manufacturing team here," Thompson said. "We believe we can cultivate and grow the talent in conjunction with the state."

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