Photos by John Coffman Photography
By Christopher Selmek firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles about local manufacturing and global impact.
The Sarica Manufacturing Company is a relatively recent addition to the manufacturing companies doing business in Champaign County. CEO Steve Schneider founded the company in June 2005 with his wife, Connie, and since then has acquired two additional companies that each have customers all over the world.
“My wife is actually 51 percent owner of Sarica, so we started the company just her and I,” Schneider said. “We did this and we grew it from there with a couple other employees, so Sarica is a total start-up in 2005. We started in our original building, which was at 116 E. Court, and then grew from there.”
Sarica is an electronics manufacturing services provider that builds electronics, particularly for the aerospace industry. Hughey & Phillips produces airport lighting and obstruction lighting, such as lights on cell phone towers and water towers. Eisen Works, the more recent acquisition, performs mechanical assembly that supports its own customer base as well as that of the other two companies. All have offices here in Urbana.
Growing the business
Schneider originally came to Urbana in 1986 to work in electronics manufacturing for Honeywell Grimes Aerospace. In 1996 he left Honeywell to work for Monarch Marking Systems in Dayton, where he worked with barcode systems. Then in 2004 he left that company to begin working on his own venture, which would become Sarica.
“We did not have a plan to sell things overseas,” he said. “For the first couple years I was just hoping the fax machine would go off every day to try to get an order from customers that I had done business with at either Honeywell, during my tenure at Honeywell, or during my tenure at Monarch Marking Systems to build electronics for them. The first couple years were very difficult, we were not near as prosperous as we are today.”
By 2009 orders were abundant. Hefty growth had started around 2008, and the first international customers arrived around 2010.
“We started doing business with a company in Singapore that was looking for electronics, that was a supplier to some
of my existing customer base,” Schneider said. “That’s kind of what happens. We don’t have any real sales force. Our customers refer us to their supply chain, and so it just grows from there. They were producing a part for somebody else and they needed somebody to produce electronics, so they called us and we started doing business with them in 2010. They are still a customer today.”
The company in Singapore specifically was looking for cable harnesses, which Schneider describes as difficult electronic harnesses that go in an airplane application. A harness is a cable that typically has a circular connector on one end that connects a power supply in the aircraft to an avionics unit flight instrument display.
Sarica started doing business with Europe and Israel in 2014 after company representatives attended the Paris Air Show. There, Schneider said they were approached by several companies interested in finding a U.S. source for products.
“A lot of it has to do with FMF funding - Foreign Military Financing,” Schneider said. “What’s done on that is that the United States government will provide to countries funds for their own selfdefense. But there’s a contingency on those funds, whatever they’re going to go buy for self-defense, that money has to be spent 100 percent back in the U.S, so that’s what started it. We were and still are today a supplier to the Department of Defense, so we had all the pedigrees, all the things that are a requirement in FMF funding. Companies or countries that get this funding from the United States… they then have to spend that money in the United States, so it’s kind of good that it comes back to us.”
Israel was particularly interested in developing Patriot Advanced Capability – or PAC-3 missiles, which Sarica had developed for some of its existing customer base, so Schneider said that he and these defense companies were a good match for one another.
“They don’t want to go to just anybody and have to train them on how to build stuff to these other engineering drawings,” he said. “We knew how to do this, and we had the pedigree and the specifications and the certifications already in place, so it was a good fit.”
Israel comes to Ohio
The Dayton Development Corporation hosted a seminar to introduce local businesses to the Israeli Ministry of Defense in September. Several times before, Schneider said, he had been asked to speak at these kinds of events, but always he had been traveling outside the area. This time he was available and spoke before 50-70 people before bringing some of them to Urbana for a tour.
“It was very interesting, a lot of folks who were in the audience were trying to get FMF funding business from companies in Israel, and a lot of them had just started the quoting process with companies which were already customers of ours,” he said. “Now that we’ve started doing business in Israel we have business with a few companies over there.
“Folks from Ministry of Defense that were there did not know a whole lot about Sarica, and did not realize I had been doing all this work over there for all this time,” he continued. “So they were very interested in coming here and doing a plant tour and taking a look at that.”
Schneider said each of his three companies has different markets and that he spends much of his time making trips specific to one customer base.
“All three of those companies are parked in different markets,” he said. “Sarica is primarily parked in aerospace, so it’s dealing with customers who are either defense or in international military, or who are in aerospace companies like Airbus, Boeing and Honeywell. Hughey & Phillips produces a product that none of it goes on an airplane. So Sarica primarily produces a product that goes on defense vehicles or on airplanes. Hughey & Phillips is all ground bases, so its customers are completely different. Those customers are airports, government contracts, that are bidding projects that are a new cell phone tower or a new building in Dubai, and all over the world.”
Hughey & Phillips, which Schneider acquired from Honeywell in 2009, has since added three additional companies and continues to be a growth and acquisition-based company. That company has locations not only in Urbana, but also in Mansfield, Ohio, Lakeland, Florida, and now Fort Lauderdale.
“In the case of Hughey & Phillips, we just acquired a company in Fort Lauderdale formerly called Astronics, and this is a game changer for us because it puts us on a whole different plateau in the airport market,” he said. “Customers before, when they came to Hughey & Phillips, we might have only been able to supply maybe 10 of their product lines on the airport. Today those customers and those contractors can come to us and we can supply the whole airport with everything that they need. That’s a game changer, and it’s starting to happen to us already with getting lots of new opportunities to go big, where before it wasn’t as attractive.”
Schneider said Eisen Works, as a mechanical assembly company, has a smaller footprint than the other companies. He said that company currently has more work than they can handle and that if he could hire additional people for that organization he would be able to take on even more contracts.
“They have the same pedigree as Sarica, so they’re parked in the Aerospace account,” he said. “They have their own customers, a lot of those same customers are Sarica customers, but they also have their own customer base where they do very intricate, like Swiss watch, mechanical assemblies. It’s a very narrow client base that they have because of where they want to be parked at, but they do have some medical customers that need precision instruments, very small. They’re doing very well, they’re growing also, but it’s an order of magnitude difference from the other companies.”
“We are continuing to grow,” Schneider said. “It’s very positive. The market is very good right now, both domestically and internationally for our products, and in the case of Sarica … if we didn’t take another order tomorrow, we have enough backlog today to produce more sales in 2020 than we did in 2019.
“It’s done very well, and that’s a testimonial to everybody that works here,” he continued. “I wish I could say that I’m the greatest salesperson in the world to convince all these customers to buy products from us, but it really has nothing to do with that. We have no real sales force and I’m not very good at it. What customers continue to do is go to Sarica because we do what we say we’re going to do and our product lasts for a very long time.”
Schneider said that the main reason his customers stay with Sarica is because — as one of his customers said — “with Sarica we get the product, and you’re the first electronics supplier we’ve had that we did not have to send product back.”
“We’ve built all these companies on their ability to do what we say,” Schneider added. “We don’t want to hire a bunch of people and then lay back off. That is not what we’re doing here and it’s not what we’re about. If we can find good, steady, sustained growth we’re going to do it. In the case of Eisen Works they get lots of opportunities to produce thousands and thousands of parts, and then that order disappears and they don’t have that again until maybe next year. We don’t want to staff up in a seasonal type of business, like they do for Christmas holidays and folks that work at department stores. When we hire somebody we want them to be here until they retire.”
According to Schneider, the Urbana plant produces about 230 different part numbers every month, so employees are always working on something different and the work is not repetitive.
“A lot of times when people talk about manufacturing they think they’re sitting on an assembly line and just putting the same part on the same part all day long,” said Lin Giampetro, Sarica’s manager of culture development. “Here they do kit builds, so they get a kit that has everything in it, build the entire product, and like Steve said they might be working on one job for a couple days, and then they’re done with it, and then the next thing is completely different.”
Schneider added that they were lucky to be located in central Ohio, with many of their employees traveling to work from throughout Champaign County, Clark County, and the Columbus area. “There are great resources that are available in this area,” he said. “Unfortunately, what has happened over the last decade is there’s been a lot of manufacturing companies that have boarded up their doors and moved to China, or put it offshore someplace else. A lot of those folks are still here and they’re excellent, they’ve got a great work ethic, they know how to read engineering drawings, they’ve got a good ability to work on some of the most sophisticated electronics in the world that we produce right here in Urbana, Ohio.”
Sarica has about 85 employees in Urbana and about 120 total in Ohio, but is always looking to increase the workforce with good assemblers, solderers and machinists. For more information about job opportunities, e-mail lgiampetro@saricamfg. com.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304
“There are great resources that are available in this area. Unfortunately, what has happened over the last decade is there’s been a lot of manufacturing companies that have boarded up their doors and moved to China, or put it offshore someplace else. A lot of those folks are still here and they’re excellent, they’ve got a great work ethic, they know how to read engineering drawings, they’ve got a good ability to work on some of the most sophisticated electronics in the world that we produce right here in Urbana, Ohio.”
-Sarica CEO Steve Schneider