Precision Plus Inc.
840 Koopman Lane, Elkhorn
Industry: Swiss turned components
Elkhorn-based Precision Plus Inc. traces its founding in 1982 to the talent pool that developed in the Walworth County area from the presence of Borg Instruments Inc., a company that, among other things, used Swiss-style machining to produce parts for the U.S. Defense Department in World War II.
Coincidentally, the draining of that talent pool over the years is what keeps Precision Plus president Mike Reader up at night. He’s concerned about where his company’s workforce will come from, competition in finding qualified people and developing talent from within the company.
“The biggest issue is messaging,” Reader said. “People are not aware of what goes on in manufacturing.”
But don’t count Reader among those who are worried about the workforce but not doing anything to fix the problem. He kicked in $200,000 of his own money to expand the manufacturing facilities at the Elkhorn campus of Gateway Technical College, brought on an educator at Precision Plus, dedicated space to a training room, developed an internship program and put students on scholarship at two-year and four-year schools.
Those efforts are intended to help change the conversation about manufacturing and replenish the pool of talent.
“That’s a pretty long game,” Reader said. “And the good news for us is we’re very busy, but if you’re playing the long game, you (still) need (an) instant skilled workforce.”
Precision Plus is staying busy in part because of the diverse end markets it serves and its willingness to produce a wide range of part volumes. Some parts are manufactured in runs of 50 to 100 pieces, while 3 to 5 million pieces are made each year for other parts.
“The diversification is nice, but if you don’t have common processes and materials, it makes it difficult from a scheduling standpoint,” Reader said.
The company machines parts for everything from deep sea oil drilling to high-end cufflinks, from musical instruments to the defense industry.
“We have focused on moving our market position continually higher to stay out of the commodity race,” Reader said.
The one area Precision Plus has avoided is the automotive industry. Reader said the company’s approach just doesn’t fit with the industry’s demands for parts at the lowest cost with the highest possible quality.
“We’re not going to be the cheapest on the planet,” he said, adding there have been opportunities to explore overseas joint partnerships that could bring prices down. “I’d rather that we focus on being the very best that we can right here in southeastern Wisconsin and hope that doesn’t come to bite me down the road.”
When Reader first began approaching area high schools to expose students to opportunities at the company, he sought out not just students for whom a four-year degree wasn’t a fit, but also the “best and the brightest.” It paid off and Precision Plus was able to attract a high school valedictorian and two of his friends for internships. Two of the students are now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a third is at UW-Platteville.
“They’re going to go on to be engineers somewhere,” Reader said. “They’re probably not going to come back to me right out of school.”
Initially, Reader wanted to go after the top of the class, figuring it would be an investment in the industry and his company.
“I’ve had to throttle that back a little bit,” he said, noting waiting 10 to 20 years for a payoff doesn’t solve the immediate challenges. “I recognized I needed to have a more stratified approach.”
Precision Plus offers opportunities for high school students to work part-time, coming in before or after school. Entry level positions start in the range of $10 to $12 per hour, with shop floor salaries stretching into the $60,000 to $80,000 range and in some cases, over $100,000.
“We are trying to set ourselves up as a destination, career employer, rather than just a place where you can work and collect a paycheck,” Reader said.