Subcontractor Lands Honor

May 13, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — The United States Small Business Administration regional subcontractor of the year got its start in what was once the basement of a West Side church.

Since then, things have really taken off for Jedco Inc., 1615 Broadway NW.

The subcontractor to the aerospace and defense industries was the winner of the Region 5 award, encompassing Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota. Jedco now has a chance this month to be selected National Subcontractor of the Year in Washington, D.C.

“Their willingness to meet our needs is the best in the supply base,” said Norm Rodrigue, metal fabrication supply chain manager for core procurement with Pratt & Whitney. “This supplier is the best supplier for sheet metal fabrication, and is focused on continually improving its quality, delivery and cost performance.”

Founded in 1972, Jedco didn’t always service the aerospace and defense industries. It started out as something much different — a furniture parts manufacturer.

“We made metal table legs and chair bases. Remember those chairs in elementary school that all interlinked? We made those interlinking steel frames,” said Dan Szymanski, president and CEO of Jedco. “Our company even had a few patents they designed.”

Until 1960 the building on the corner of Broadway and Richmond that houses Jedco was St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church — the “basement church.” After that, the building became a tool and die shop and, after several transitions, Jedco was born in the late 1970s.

At that time, some employees of another parts manufacturer decided to buy their own business. Natural growth and expansion led the group to purchase 20 percent of Jedco in an effort to help the company improve something they saw as a weakness at the time — making small parts. In 1982, Szymanski and his father began purchasing the company and by 1988 they had bought out the other partners.

“In 1982 when we came here, we had six employees and were working in 8,000 square feet of space,” Szymanski said. “Now we have 130 employees and have conquered the block and are working on 75,000 square feet.”

Today, after his father’s death in 2000, Szymanski and his brother, Dick, run the company, which supplies jet engine parts to companies like Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls Royce.

The recent recognition and award for Jedco is a great honor, said Szymanski.

“It means that one of the three primary jet engine manufacturers recognized us as what they feel is the best at what we do. It feels pretty good,” he said. “It probably is going to be a confirmation of our eventual continuation of growth. It will give us a lot of opportunity to grow as a fast moving company.”

Filling the right niche has allowed Jedco to expand its customer base.

“Because we are capable and we are customer-focused, we have the capability for a lot of these smaller-part jobs that the larger companies don’t want,” he said. “We know why we are here. If it wasn’t for our customers we wouldn’t exist. And that is the culture here; we make sure the customer is first. We give them what they want.”

Customers say they are noticing the effort.

“For a company this size to expand rapidly while maintaining outstanding performance is a testament to the forward thinking and ‘can do’ attitude of its entire team,” Pratt & Whitney’s Rodrigue said.

That focus continues in both the non-aerospace and aerospace work the company performs.

“The aerospace work is always changing and will always be there because parts will always need replacing. You can have several different engines and there are a variety of them out there flying right now, some older than me,” Szymanski explained. “And those engines, like the B-52 bomber engines, can still be out there flying but have all new parts. You might have an aircraft that has its original engine, but there is nothing left of it besides the serial number. It’s like an axe — if you replace the blade and the handle, is it still the same axe?”

Jedco also makes sure to diversify so that if one company or project catches a cold, it doesn’t catch pneumonia.

“Our customers like us to be diversified and to have ourselves out there, because if one of their projects fail they know what it can mean to a smaller shop like us,” said Szymanksi. “So we keep busy with numerous different projects.”

One of those projects includes a meteorite shield now in place on the International Space Station. Another project in the works could cause Jedco to easily add 30 more staff and possibly need to move off the block it now inhabits in order to compensate for growth.

As part of that diversification, Szymanski started a firm called Laser Access in the same building as Jedco. Laser Access does laser machining for Jedco, as well as other customers in West Michigan and around the country.

“We have just completed one of our biggest years. We had 30 new projects and did right around $148,000 to $150,000,” said Szymanski. “It has been a real challenge and I think that is part of what Pratt & Whitney found; they needed someone they could go to and not drown. We were there and we were able to solve their problems and create cost-effective, plausible solutions for them, which in turn saved them thousands of dollars.”           

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