First in an occasional series
By GRACE GAGLIANO
MANATEE — Doug Mansfield has worked too long and too hard to let some economic bump in the road destroy his manufacturing company.
As the recession rattled small businesses across Manatee County, Mansfield decided he wasn’t going to sit back and let Sarasota Precision Engineering become the economy’s next victim.
Mansfield acknowledges he hardly has reason to panic since his company, which designs and makes injection molds for the automotive and aerospace industries, brought in $2.3 million in 2009, up from $1.8 million in 2008.
But Mansfield still worries the economy could pose threats to his two industry sectors.
“If you don’t expand what you’re capable of doing, you’ve got less you can draw from if this or that over here gets a little tight,” Mansfield said.
That’s why Sarasota Precision Engineering, with 22 employees, is taking a big step in diversification by launching a medical division to develop future sources of revenue.
The division, Sarasota Precision Engineering Medical, will make surgical devices for use in laproscopic and arthroscopic surgeries. The long, tube-like instruments with a valve system are placed into a body’s abdominal area to act as a port through which surgeons can operate. SPE Medical is awaiting certification to show it complies with medical device manufacturing standards before it can start generating business. Industry officials will inspect the plant this week for certification.
Mansfield projects the medical division will initially account for about 10 percent of Sarasota Precision’s revenue.
“I’m hoping that later on it will be more like 40 percent,” he said.
As part of the manufacturing industry, Mansfield did face some challenging numbers during the recession.
In January 2009, a month after economists declared the United States was in a recession, U.S. factory activity fell to 32.4 percent, its lowest level since 1980, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Manufacturing activity below 50 is an indication that manufacturers are contracting.
But in the first quarter of 2010, the manufacturing industry is starting to see some encouraging signs of rebounding as industrial production increased 7.8 percent over the first quarter of 2009, according to the Federal Reserve.
But industrial production in aerospace equipment continues to lag. According to the Federal Reserve, industrial production in aerospace and transportation equipment decreased 4.6 percent in March 2010 from March 2009.
“With the way the economy has been over the last 18 months, we’ve had to make some realignments and resize ourselves to stay healthy and strong so we can support our customers,” said Preston Mathis, a plant manager for Eaton Corp., an aerospace manufacturer based in Manatee County.
Sarasota Precision Engineering has been able to avoid cutbacks and layoffs. In fact, Mansfield hopes to create jobs with SPE Medical in the near future.
Mansfield formed the medical division last year with the help of business partner Michael Ontiveros, who has 30 years’ experience in the surgical device industry.
The two met through a mutual acquaintance and both saw the potential to partner on a business venture.
Their partnership works well because, as Ontiveros puts it, “our business backgrounds basically compliment each other.”
Both started out in the manufacturing industry with entry-level positions and the desire to move ahead of their peers.
Ontiveros started out in manufacturing as a plastic injection mold maker and worked his way up to a designer.
“As I was building molds, I had a great interest in the design of mold and parts,” Ontiveros said. “Bausch & Lomb was an account of the company I was working for, and they wanted to get into disposable and reusable handheld cataract surgical instruments.”
Ontiveros had the foresight to see product and mold design would be more beneficial to his career and converted to the trade. The move paid off in the early 1980s when Bausch & Lomb recruited him to work in its engineering department to help design the cataract surgical instruments.
Mansfield, meanwhile, began his manufacturing career at age 17 as a laborer. He swept floors and did general labor tasks around the plant. But he made the most of it by striking up conversations with mold makers to learn more about their work.
“I thought, ‘What can I learn off these mold makers while I’m here,’” he said. “I always wanted a little bit more, so I applied myself.”
In 1980, Mansfield opened a mold welding and repair plant, Artisan Tool & Die, in Muncie, Ind. The success of that company allowed him to start Sarasota Precision Engineering in 1988.
Mansfield and Ontiveros figure their aggressive business natures will allow Sarasota Precision to stay ahead of the competition in a changing economy.
SPE Medical will be able to design, develop, manufacture and package the medical devices in its facility, located in the Centre Industrial Park just west of U.S. 301.
Being able to provide all those services in one plant is a desirable quality in their industry, Ontiveros said.
“In order for business to survive, we had to dive into a different market,” Ontiveros said. “The medical markets offer opportunity for growth, and it’s a niche with huge barriers that only a select few can get into. As we make this attempt, we’re basically going after being the best we can be.”
Grace Gagliano, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.