Startup TRIAX adding capacity to Manatee manufacturing

TALLEVAST -- Last September three guys, who really like making things, decided that while they were in a position to retire early, starting a component manufacturing business was a better idea.

Keying on recent growth in the aerospace, pleasure boat and medical industries in the Bradenton-Sarasota area, Gary North, Michael McKee and Bill Michel decided to put together a business that could use their combined decades of working in the manufacturing and engineering industries. Their vision was a company that could partner with existing companies to design, prototype and produce everything from small components to complete assemblies to add to their customers' production capacity.

A former software industry entrepreneur, North said he believes manufacturing is on the upswing in the United States and in Florida in particular.

"We think there's a real effort to bring stuff back on shore," he said.

Once the partners decided on a mar

ket, they jumped in quickly. They came up with a name, TRIAX Precision Manufacturing, then acquired the assets of a Sarasota-based machining company, Hi-Nu-Tec Inc.

A building to house their machine shop was next. The company paid $675,000 last fall for a 14,600-square-foot warehouse at 911 Commerce Boulevard N. formerly occupied by Bradenton computer refurbisher xByte Technologies. Now, a month into the new year, the TRIAX partners and their operations manager, Jeff Brookfield, are pushing work through a sterling-clean shop as they also scramble to do sales and establish their office operations.

The most precise equipment in the shop, a pair of three-axis mills and a CNC lathe, are guided by computers and software that can turn billets of aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and other metals into almost any shape. TRIAX also works with exotic, non-metallic materials, including polymers and composites.

North and his partners are keeping their customer list close to the vest in the early going. But he said TRIAX's machining, engineering, welding and assembly capabilities are in line with what nearby manufacturers need. The company has started ISO 9001 and AS 9000 certifications to comply with the requirements of current and future clients in the general and aerospace manufacturing industries.

The dense manufacturing districts in Tallevast and nearby Whitfield were not the only draw for TRIAX to locate in Manatee County. North said officials with the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation were "quick to react to all our requests for information regarding locating in the area, setting up meetings with their specialists, and identifying real estate opportunities."

"Manatee seemed to want us," North said.

Sharon Hillstrom, the EDC's president and CEO, said TRIAX ties in with her organization's emphasis on bringing more manufacturing jobs to the county.

"TRIAX provides services that are in strong demand among manufacturers locally and globally," she said. "The high-tech nature of the company's business generates jobs that tend to pay higher-than-average wages."

TRIAX has plans to grow well beyond its current full-time staff of four. North said he envisions a shop employing up to 30 people.

The Manatee County Board of Commissioners recently approved $9,000 in performance-based incentives to go to TRIAX if it creates nine jobs over the next five years. To qualify, the average wage company-wide must be 15 percent greater than the average annual wage in Manatee County in 2013. That wage was $36,196.

Other expansion plans include adding more machinery, including five- and six-axis mills that will churn out even more complex projects.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.