Fisk Precision Technologies opens in Wyoming

January 13, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Fisk Precision Technologies LLC is a classic example of an entrepreneurial family launching a business together — but no, their name isn’t Fisk. It’s Steketee, as in the department store family.

Brian Steketee, 33, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” and president of Fisk, said the name was inspired by Fisk Lake, the small East Grand Rapids lake where the Steketee family lived.

Fisk is led by CEO Amy Steketee (Brian’s wife), with Brian’s father, Steve, an experienced industrialist, serving as COO. Brian’s expertise is in marketing and brand development: He is the founding partner and “chief alchemist” at Agent X Marketing at 44 Grandville Ave. in Grand Rapids. Amy has extensive experience in sales and marketing in Chicago, and Steve has worked for almost 30 years in the industrial sector, predominately in precision machining, according to Brian.

The new high-tech industrial company opened up shop in December in Wyoming at a vacant carpet warehouse at 3403 Lousma Drive SE. The company purchased the building with the help of a 12-year industrial facilities tax abatement granted by the city in return for making a $600,000 investment there. It anticipates adding three jobs and retaining nine, according to a city press release.

Brian said they saw a unique opportunity to serve inventors and entrepreneurs in West Michigan who need rapid prototyping. They invested in sophisticated equipment including a 3D printer, wire EDM machines, water-jet cutting equipment and CNC mills. Using a precise CAD drawing, Fisk can, in effect, print out the drawing in three-dimensional plastic.

“We’ve jam-packed the building full,” said Brian. “One concession all three of us would probably agree with is that we probably should have bought a bigger building.”

The capability at Fisk allows someone who walks in with a CAD drawing to “walk out with a working prototype,” he said, and Fisk will eventually have the capability to “take an idea from a napkin concept all the way through to actually manufacturing it.”

“It makes the internal parts, too,” said Steve. A correctly done 3D CAD drawing of a pair of pliers, for example, will yield a pair of pliers exactly to size. “And they will work when they come off the machine, with the nut and screw functional, and everything out of plastic.”

“If it’s drawn up properly (in CAD), the machine will do it. I’ve seen it,” said Steve.

Steve was employed in the Steketee family’s retail business for 16 years, until he left in 1983 to go into industrial work. However, he remained active on the Steketee board until the company was sold in 1991. At one point, the company had retail stores in Holland, Muskegon and Kalamazoo, as well as downtown Grand Rapids.

Steve said he always tended to want “to get my hands dirty.” In 1992, he founded his own small company, Multi-Tech Precision CNC, on Cottage Grove in Grand Rapids, which is still in business. The company now employs seven and has long-term customers as far away as Chicago and Kansas City. He said Multi-Tech started out as a small CNC job shop, producing small runs of parts for the food processing industry, packaging industry and now the medical device industry.

Some of the machinery at Multi-Tech will be moved to the Fisk facility in Wyoming, according to Steve. The two companies complement each other, although Multi-Tech does not have the wire EDM and precision water-jet cutting equipment that Fisk does.

Steve, Brian and Amy had been planning to start a new industrial business since the recession has eased and the long-battered industrial sector in Michigan has begun cautiously recovering. Steve began looking for equipment throughout West Michigan and said he noticed that “it seemed like everybody who was in wire EDM was busy, and everyone in the laser business was busy, and everybody in the water-jet business was busy. So, given the good tax incentives today and the low, low interest rates, it just made sense.”

“We are really excited about this little business,” said Steve. “It rekindled a little entrepreneurial thing in me. It’s going to be a fun thing.”

He noted that the Steketee family always has supported West Michigan. “We’d just as soon stay here,” he said. He and his business partners believe manufacturing is not dead in Michigan: “That’s what we’re banking on.”

Steve recalls that he, his father and brother engaged in business projects together long ago, something he enjoyed. Now, Fisk Precision is “a cool opportunity” to go into business with his children.

“We’re hoping that everything is bottomed out and it’s going to head back up, and we’re catching it at the right time.”

Full economic recovery is “out there,” said Steve. “It’s just coming slower than I’d like to see it.”

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