Macomb County continues to diversity, innovate
After being recognized mainly for only their work in the automotive industry for decades, Macomb County manufacturers and suppliers are diversifying and carving out new niches in other industries. Aerospace is one of them.
“There are many similarities between the two,” said Jeff Simek, general manager – operations for RCO Engineering & RCO Aerospace. “The same qualities that have served us well in automotive, such as discipline, speed to market and supply chain, can be applied to aerospace.” The need is there. The knowledge and ability to make it happen is in Macomb County. “We know automotive,” he said, “but we are working to remove the typecast of being just automotive. There is a huge space in aerospace and a lot of good companies in Macomb County.”
Ascent Aerospace is one of the largest aerospace companies in Macomb County. With more than 600 employees statewide – 350 workers in Macomb County alone – and 240,000 square feet of manufacturing space, it brings a diverse engineering background to the area.Beginning in 2012, it diversified into a single supplier by acquiring companies that were respected leaders in their area of expertise: Global Tooling Systems, Odyssey Industries and Brown Aerospace to name a few. Today it offers creative turn-key solutions through assembly line integration, automation systems and tooling.
“We are an innovative, vertically integrated company that has a very strong footprint here and around the world,” said CEO Michael Mahfet. “This region has opportunities to grow and we believe in investing in the future.”
According to the 2017 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings, Michigan ranked second for aerospace attractiveness, boosted by its strong performance in economy, infrastructure and cost categories. Macomb County companies are making the most of their research, development and manufacturing roles, in part due to its automotive heritage. “The skills and talent of the labor pool is strong. From auto, some of these skills transfer to aerospace well,” said Mahfet.
In May, Global Tooling Systems, which provides intelligent assembly systems for aircraft manufacturing, was named by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics as an Elite top performing supplier for tooling and support provided for the F-35 Lightning II, including assembly jigs, work stands and other production tools for manufacturing the stealth multirole fighter jet. Global Tooling Systems has been recognized three of the last four years, previously earning top supplier honors for work delivered in 2016 and 2014, according to a news release. Ascent is among the 23 suppliers, representing the top two percent of LMCO’s 1,400 suppliers, who achieved at least 98 percent quality and 98 percent delivery in 2017.
Ascent Aerospace is hiring and expects to add more resources by the end of the year. It also operates a facility 25 miles away in Lake Orion and the two facilities often share resources. Leaders have built a carefully crafted business-friendly culture in Macomb County and that not only attracts businesses willing to invest, but it makes the region appealing to skilled talent. Partnerships with local colleges and high schools provide quality education and training. This makes them a natural fit to work within the strict requirements of the aerospace industry, he said.
Macomb County’s efforts are supported by organizations such as the Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan (AIAM), a group of aerospace leaders that work toward the common goal of bolstering growth of the industry through investment and talent. Simek is a AIAM board member who sees potential for growth for RCO with autonomous and connected vehicles, jet manufacturing and the addition of a FAA-certified 3D printing process for production of aerospace components.
RCO Engineering & RCO Aerospace transitioned into aerospace in 2008 during a time when diversification was on the mind of nearly every business hit hard by the downturn of the auto industry. The company was founded in Roseville in 1973 by Paul Carollo, Sr. and it had seen hard time before in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Already skilled in design, engineering, creating prototypes, manufacturing and testing seats and seating components for cars, RCO Engineering & RCO Aerospace applied its knowledge to aerospace with tremendous success. “I see in the near future it being 50-50 between automotive and aerospace,” said Paul M. Carollo Jr., corporate sales manager for RCO Engineering & RCO Aerospace. As the company worked to diversify its offerings, it had to get many of its suppliers on board and encourage them to research the needs practices and processes of aerospace. For its efforts, RCO Engineering, Inc. was honored with the 2018 Macomb County Business Award for Diversification Leader. This award is given to a business that generates new business by expanding products/services provided or tapping new markets.
Ascent Aerospace is located at 51327 Quadrate Drive in Macomb. For more information, call 586-726-0500 or visit AscentAerospace.com
RCO Enginerring & RCO Aerospace is located at 29200 Calahan Road in Roseville. For more information, call 586-771-8400 or visit Rcoeng.com
For details about the Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan, visit AIAMNow.com