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Who Needs Reshoring?

A mid-sized gear manufacturer espouses some old-fashioned ideas to confront the challenges of today’s economic environment and world market conditions.

By Fred Young, CEO, Forest City Gear

Forest City Gear supplies some of the world’s leading companies with high-precision gear work. These include products for various defense sector contractors, NASA (all actuators for scientific arms and wheel drives on the Mars Rover program’s next effort, Curiosity), the winch gears on the winning entry in the last America’s Cup, gears on every car in the starting field at Indy and more. We even export gears to China and other countries -- that’s not supposed to happen, right? I don’t say these things to boast, but only to demonstrate what a company can achieve when it remembers to bring its best game to every competition. Like the great sports teams of the past and present, our company puts its very best effort into every project we tackle, not just the high-margin ones, the glamorous ones or the ones where we get press coverage. This philosophy has served us well, since my parents started our company in 1955. 

Today, a tour of Forest City Gear reveals some things you can see, such as all the new technology for gearmaking, our state-of-the-art production department and our quality lab, where I’d stack our people and equipment up against any gear manufacturer on the planet for comparison. Again, not a brag, but a further demonstration of what we sincerely believe is necessary for any company to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment. The fact that over 20 percent of our customers are other gear companies is no accident. Rather, it is the result of our commitment to manufacture absolutely the finest quality products in the industry, coupled with the ability to prove out that quality in a lab that’s the envy of the gear industry, as well as the very latest machine tool technology to do things our peers in the industry cannot. 

There’s a notion going around these days called “re-shoring” and it makes the case that American manufacturers can regain lost business by talking about total cost of ownership, trade regulations, and other ethereal concepts. Let’s be direct about it -- offshore competition will always remain a serious option for any customer who doesn’t understand that quality components make the best end product. When your company’s products are better, people will beat a path to your door.

Forest City Gear is by no means the largest gear manufacturer in the world and, while do a good job of advertising and promoting our capabilities in the trade media, our reputation wouldn’t be sustainable if we didn’t deliver everything we promise in those ads. Quality doesn’t result from wishing and hoping for it, but rather from people willing to put their money where their heart is. In our case, that’s the gear business.

We invest a lot of money into new equipment -- that’s true. We’re also one of the country’s top sellers of used gearmaking equipment, and that’s also true. That’s one of many reasons we can continue to invest. Beyond the machinery and testing facilities, however, we invest in our most important asset: our people. We have an ongoing educational program, so employees can constantly increase their knowledge about the business. Plus, we engage our machine and equipment suppliers on a regular basis to tap into their expertise, because we know they contact the top gear manufacturers in the world and this knowledge transfer and cross-pollinization of technology will make our company better.

Thus, while we push our leading-edge machine tools to the limit of their capabilities in making gears, we also push our people to advance the technology at Forest City Gear through their own individual effort, imagination and talent. This isn’t rah-rah talk, this is business, folks. And it pays off. 

Likewise, we send our people to the AGMA (American Gear Manufacturers Association) gear school, where, as I like to say, they don’t learn how to pick the brand of car, but rather they learn to drive. I had a little part in starting that school, so it has a special place in my heart, by the way. Many others in the industry did, as well, and that brings me to another worthwhile point. The old saying about a rising tide raising all boats is really true. American manufacturers will succeed and prosper if they work together to build their respective industries.

Gear manufacturers and others who compete with off-shore companies are not at a disadvantage, as some would have you believe. At least they’re not, if they remember the things that made them successful in the first place. Having better equipment and better people than the other guys, in addition to utilizing all available engineering support from vendors, industry associations, and others in the business who can help, will all accomplish the goal every company must have to succeed. That goal is simply to produce a better product than the other guys, every time, with no compromise on quality or service. 

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