Aggressive Tool Die Expands Aggressively

August 1, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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COOPERSVILLE — Aggressive Tool & Die Inc. will be moving into town soon in pursuit of much more room for manufacturing technology and production. It has also been granted city permission to become a member of the Coopersville Tooling Coalition, one of the state government's 24 Tool & Die Recovery Zone coalitions.

Aggressive and DVK Construction of Caledonia held a ground-breaking ceremony in late July at the Midway Industrial Park on a new 20,000-square-foot building that will include 4,000 square feet of office space and 16,000 square feet of industrial space — double the size of Aggressive's existing location just south of Coopersville in Polkton Township. According to DVK, the new facility will be complete in January.

Although the move won't necessarily result in an immediate increase in employment, it will enable the company to invest more in equipment, allowing it to respond quicker to the increasingly shorter lead times demanded by its customers, which are primarily Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers.

Greg Wiersma, who founded Aggressive with partner Tom Zuidema in Walker in 1993, said that despite the negative news one hears about the Big Three U.S. automakers, the company is still very involved in automotive.

"Automotive is still a large part of our business, but we're also doing work in the furniture industry," said Wiersma. "We're building because we need square footage. We are very cramped in our current facility," he said, referring to the location on 68th Street south of Coopersville where Aggressive relocated when it left Walker 12 years ago.

"We're at a point where there's no more room for additional machining centers or any other machines that we need to add. We can't physically put more in here," he said.

Ken Rizzio, Ottawa County economic development director, has been working on Aggressive's application to the state of Michigan for local tax exemptions under the Tool & Die Recovery Zone law. He said the application indicates Aggressive will be investing $1.2 million in the new facility, and the company currently employs about 24 individuals. The company indicated there is the "possibility" of adding three more employees over the next two years, according to Rizzio.

"It's a nice project for the city of Coopersville," added Rizzio.

Wiersma said Aggressive has been investing in the latest technology for a few years now, including a complete conversion to 3D tool design with the CATIA V5 system. Three years ago, the company invested in die simulation software that saves time in the engineering phase.

"We're being asked for faster and faster lead times," said Wiersma.

It's a tough and ever-changing market for tool and die companies, said Wiersma. "Right now we need to be able to change and move with it. I do see opportunities out there, but you have to be out looking for them."

Some of Aggressive’s customers are supplying the Big Three, and some are supplying Nissan, Toyota and Honda, he said.

Ford Motor Co.'s announcement that it will shift its focus toward greater production of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles is "a positive thing for the tool and die industry," said Wiersma.

"One would think the other automotive companies are definitely considering the same thing, which should drive tooling," he added.

Aggressive is already well advanced in technology but will be "refining its processes" and adding more CNC equipment as it has more space for it, said Wiersma. New automated machinery, including pallet changers, will allow the company to reduce machine downtime during set-ups.

Inclusion in a tax exempt Tool & Die Recovery Zone requires membership in one of the tool and die coalitions organized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Coopersville City Manager Steven Patrick said the city council just gave permission for Aggressive to join the Coopersville Tooling Coalition, which includes four other Coopersville companies, plus one shop in Allendale. The Coopersville companies have all of their local property taxes (except for debt-related millages) abated for the next eight years, but then will be phased back into full taxation by the time the state program expires in 2019.

Tool & Die Recovery Zones were set up by the state government to help Michigan's tool and die industry, which has suffered a severe downturn in business over the last 10 years. The cost savings on local taxes allows many of the companies to invest more in facilities and equipment, noted Patrick.

Patrick said he has heard recently that some of the former enthusiasm in U.S. industry for outsourcing tool and die work overseas seems to be fading.

"They've had a few problems lately (overseas) and some of that work is coming back now,” said Patrick. "Whether (U.S. tool and die shops) have turned the corner or not, I don't know. But it certainly is good news for the area, at least for West Michigan. Regardless of the size of the tool and die operation, you like to see everyone successful, especially when they are expanding."

Wiersma said the savings on taxes is one advantage of membership, but another is the cooperation possible among the members. Combined purchases of raw materials to get better prices is another big plus for small companies.

"If you're all working properly within the coalition, there's a huge advantage to having partners within," said Wiersma. He added that a small company on its own may not have the capital required to invest in new equipment for a "one-time package of business," but "knowing that you have partners that are willing to work with you — that's a great advantage. That's what it's all about."

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