Global Fastener News

1988 & 2008 FIN: Rockford’s Role in the Fastener Industry

April 17
00:00 2010


By Dick Callahan
April 29, 1988 FIN – The U.S. is quickly becoming a service-oriented nation and little can be done to slow the decline in manufacturing as it moves offshore.

Right? Wrong…at least in Rockford, Illinois (the state’s second largest city, with a population of 285,000) which has established an aggressive, globe trotting group to enlighten manufacturers, both here and abroad, about the benefits of locating their facilities in the northern Illinois community, located about 85 miles northwest of Chicago.

Rockford’s manufacturing sector is particularly strong. About 37% of the area’s workforce is employed in manufacturing compared to just 19% nationally.
Helping maintain this high percentage of manufacturing are fastener companies in the area such as Elco Industries Inc.; Rockford Products Corp.; Mid-States Screw Corp.; Rock River Fastener Corp.; Jackson Screw Co.; Gaffney Bolt & Nut Co.; Southern Imperial, Inc.; Metalcrafters Div. Of Keystone Consolidated Industries; Camcar-Textron, Alpine Screw Products Inc.; Rebco Fasteners Inc.; to mention some, but not all, of the fastener companies there.

The vehicle for promoting Rockford, is “The Rockford Council of 100,” the economic development arm of the Rockford area Chamber of Commerce.
That group, currently has a mission underway (April 19-30) made up of a Rockford contingent of manufacturers and community representatives who are visiting West Germany and Sweden with facts and figures about the benefits of Rockford.

A similar trade mission (the first) last year, at which 65 pre-arranged appointments between the Rockford representatives and European firms took place, as resulted in a number of licensing agreements, joint ventures and increased export activities. The opening of a West German manufacturing plant in Rockford was directly attributable to that mission.

Complimenting the foreign trade efforts of the Rockford community is a U.S. Department of Commerce (US/DOC) branch office in Rockford (the only one in the state outside of Chicago). Export activity from Rockford companies working with the U.S./DOC office is nearing $100 million annually and over 200 of Rockford’s 825 manufacturers now export.

The Rockford Council of 100, established five years ago, is active year-round in facilitating foreign trade for the community along with its domestic and industry retention programs.
Its staff researches existing technology transfer opportunities with the assistance of a private technology search firm that specializes in foreign markets.
The Council also coordinates a program that annually brings the Chicago Consular Corp. to Rockford to investigate new trade appointments; is bringing companies to Rockford from abroad who seek a U.S. base (including 12 European firms this month); and works with state domestic and European offices to develop trade.

Another advantage Rockford has in its quiver as it targets potential producers both here and abroad. That is the presence in Rockford of the Rock Valley College (RVC) an $8.7 million facility, which was completely funded by a local bond issue, approved by voters in 1985. RVC could justifiably be considered the small and medium sized manufacturers’ counterpart to the big technical institutions like MIT, which are available namely to big companies like IBM or AT&T.

Rock Valley College has a three-level 73,500 sq ft Technology Center with some remarkable resources for its size including labs for robotics, and shop floor simulations, microprocessors and computers, a technical/computer software library, mainframe computer room, plus its central feature, a two-story 3,000 sq ft computer integrated manufacturing cell. The manufacturing cell was designed to interface the power of the computer with business and industrial users and students, as a state-of-the-art demonstration area for manufacturing technology.

In addition The Technology Center’s computer integrated manufacturing cell (CIM), there also are areas for computer-aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM).
“The ultimate goal of the facility,” says Karl Jacobs, president of RVS “is to return the best minds in the country to the needs of the shop floor”.
Besides being a hands-on business center, the technology facility also has a meeting place for business and industry with 10,000 sq ft of conference area, which can accommodate meetings and seminars serving up to 300 people.

RVC students from the school’s technology and computer science division also use the building for classes. It’s worth noting that RVC also has workshops and seminars for professionals and many of these part time students (average age: 28) are there to promote their professional and work careers already underway.

The Council of 100 is a well-oiled smooth functioning organization in the decaying rust belt. Its activities – and those of its related groups – could be the model for other communities hoping to preserve and upgrade their manufacturing base. ©1988/2010 Fastener Industry News

Scroll down for a 2008 update on Rockford’s Role in the Fastener Industry

2008 FIN � Rockford: High-Tech Fasteners in Future?

September 3, 2008 FIN – Heading toward Rockford on Interstate 90 are 18-wheelers loaded with coils of wire rod. The trucks are a visible sign that Rockford is still a fastener manufacturing town.

After decades of fastener job losses, Acument Global Technologies’ decision to manufacture aerospace fasteners in Rockford represents a turnaround for the north central Illinois city on the Rock River.
“We’re treated as heroes,” Acument’s Camcar Aerospace Manufacturing Center & Research executive director Tim McGuire told FIN of the welcome home feeling he is receiving in Rockford.

The Camcar name is still recognized from the old days, McGuire points out. “People tell me, ‘So glad you are back’.”
And McGuire is enjoying hiring. “Something good is happening.”
Rockford’s economic leaders are looking beyond Camcar and talking about titanium and other high-tech fastener products as the future for the industry in Rockford.

Rockford’s Fastener Background

In the 1800s wood screws and nails were needed to supply the furniture industry started by Swedish immigrants in Rockford. The Rock River provided both transportation and the site for a dam that would harness waterpower for factories. The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad moved materials in and products out.

By 1900 Rockford was an industrial hub and a manufacturing center for machine tools, furniture and agricultural equipment.

Following World War II, some Rockford industries, including furniture and agricultural equipment, were nearly extinct. Fastener manufacturing and machine tool industries were at a fraction of their peak production.

By the mid-1980s unemployment was setting records. Beyond the factories, Rockford historically led in fastener technology.
In 2002 the Industrial Fasteners Institute awarded the late Ray Carlson its Trowbridge Technology Award. Carlson was recognized for developing the Raycarl heading process, which expanded manufacturing capabilities, in both size and complexity, to levels that continue to benefit the cold forming industry.

But fastener manufacturing has continued to move west from Rockford … to Japan in the 1980s, Taiwan in the 1990s and next China.

There was once a thriving Fastener Tech Center in Rockford to train header operators.
The most recent blow to the city’s fastener business was the 2007 bankruptcy and demise of Rockford Products Corp.

Despite the Asian competition, the Rockford Area Economic Development Council lists 22 fastener companies in the city, which has a population of 152,916 and claims a three-county metropolitan area of 339,100.
The current chair of the Industrial Fasteners Institute, Brian Burgy, is the president of Rockford Fastener Inc., a privately held fastener manufacturer founded in 1977.
IFI has six member companies in Rockford.

Acuments decision to manufacture aerospace fasteners in Rockford was based on the plant’s being available and the region’s being blessed with highly skilled machine operators, Camcar’s McGuire explained. They have 10, 15 or 20 years experience.

Rockford’s Derry

For Rockford native Bill Derry, fasteners are his career. As a college senior Derry went to a job fair to look for a position with a bank. There was a long line at the bank’s recruiting table and there was no one waiting at the Camcar table.
After 18 years with Camcar, in 1989 Derry joined Rockford Products, and in 1990 he and his brother Jim Derry acquired Field Fastener Supply Co. from founder Dick Field.
Derry remained with Rockford Products for two years until the Field business grew sufficiently.

In 2001 Field Fastener acquired B&B Fasteners Inc. of suburban Chicago. Last year Field acquired one of the two distribution portions of the Rockford International distribution business of Rockford Products Corp.
Five years ago, 80% of Field’s business was within 200 miles, Derry noted.
Today Field has satellite facilities in five states. An Illinois customer wanted Field Fastener to provide its VMI service to a plant in Malaysia.
Now Field is supplying fasteners internationally – some of which never come into its headquarters warehouse in the Rockford suburb of Machesney Park.

Derry likes Rockford for more than business: The tree-lined streets are a great place to raise a family, friendly community, low housing prices and recreation just to the north in Wisconsin.

Derry, the 1997-98 president of the National Fastener Distributors Association, sees that Rockford fastener manufacturing is headed in the right direction. It has started to raise capabilities for specialty production, and that is exactly what should happen.
Acument’s aerospace division and Field’s growth beyond Rockford are just what local officials envision as the way to expand the area’s fastener economy.
Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, asks existing local businesses, “Are your customers exporting?” If so, she wants them to do what Field Fastener is doing: grow globally with its customers. That is why the council offers export training.
A manufacturers consortium – the Manufacturers Association of the Rock River Valley – is a not-for-profit public/private consortium of smaller companies working together to bid on projects they could not consider individually. Small manufacturers are encouraged to work with a chain of suppliers for services, from tooling to heat treating and plating. The city helped subsidize the start of the consortium.

Robert Lamb, industrial development manager for the City of Rockford, told FIN that manufacturing with titanium is a growth industry for Rockford.
The largest employer in Rockford, Hamilton Sunstrand, is adding 100 engineers to its total employment of 2,300.
Lamb pointed out that Sunstrand is testing 38 of the 40 Boeing 787 systems at its Rockford facilities.
“You feel like you’ve walked inside a 787 after visiting the testing facility,” Lamb observed.
The next-generation jet is revolutionary in using composites, cutting maintenance and reducing weight to save jet fuel, Lamb observed.
Adding that the custom design alloy fasteners for the first space rover came from Rockford, Lamb said the future is in the high-tech niche. “We are not going to compete on a commodity basis.”

Reid Montgomery, the city’s director of Community & Economic Development, cited the skilled labor, Rockford’s proximity to Midwest industry – a one-hour drive to OEMs in the western suburbs of Chicago – and good access to containers and raw materials.
Montgomery noted a unique local advantage: Rockford International Airport is the second-largest UPS hub, with 1,600 employees servicing 36 flights per day.
Packages can be brought to the UPS facility as late as 10:30 p.m. and be put on a plane the same night.

Though Field’s business has grown beyond Rockford, Derry finds it’s still a reasonably good manufacturing market – including a Chrysler plant with 1,800 employees. “We have a good customer base here.”
Derry is delighted to be in Rockford and happy with his 34 years in the fastener business. Recalling the job fair that got him into fasteners instead of banking, Derry muses, “I could be the head teller somewhere.” \ ©2008/2010

2008 FIN – The Rockford Area Economic Development Council lists 22 fastener companies in the Rockford area:

Rockford Products, 425 employees, Dick Mowris, president
Camcar LLC, 420 employees, Michael Harhan, operations manager
Acument Global Technologies, 300 employees, Richard Dauch, president/CEO
Southern Imperial Inc., 190 employees, Stanley Valiulis, president
MNP Precision Parts LLC, 189 employees, Curt Bindenagel, plant manager
Specialty Screw Corp., 195 employees, Arvid Johnson, CEO
Slidematic Industries Inc., 75 employees, Randy Baker, president
Rocknel Fasteners, 55 employees, Greg Hill, operations manager
Rockford Bolt & Steel Co., 48 employees, John Petty, plant manager
Rockford Ball Screw Co., 47 employees, Gloria Bain, chair
Elco Fastening Systems LLC, 45 employees, Mike Janusz, engineer
Field Fastener Supply, 45 employees, Bill Derry, president
Mid-States Screw Corp., 35 employees, Bruce Horst, president
Pearson Fastener Corp., 30 employees, Leslie Pearson, chairman
Brynolf Manufacturing Inc., 24 employees, Robert Brynolf, CEO
Elite Fasteners Inc., 23 employees, John Lane, president
Forest City Industry Inc., 18 employees, Michael Gaffney, president
Illinois Tool Works Inc., 18 employees, Roberta Calvert, executive officer
Freeway-Rockford Inc., 14 employees, Raymond Scherler, chairman
JW Fasteners Inc., 6 employees, Jeff Weatherford, president
Service Machine Jobs, 3 employees, Bounnam Khernpasent, owner
Al Technology, 1 employee, John Sterner, owner.

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