BY KURT MOFFETT, REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN THOMASTON
The Summit Corp. of America knows all about tough times. After business peaked in 1999, when the company employed more than 200 workers and generated $45 million in sales, the aerospace, telecommunications and electronics industries hit the skids.
Combine that with contracts with a couple of major customers expiring, and Summit was reeling.
In June 2003, with its staff already cut in half at 105 employees, Summit filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chapter 11 offers a company protection from creditors, but its executives must produce a schedule to repay them and a plan to reorganize the firm. Two years later, the electroplating company at 1430 Waterbury Road emerged from bankruptcy. As part of its reorganization, Summit must pay the town $550,000 it owes in back taxes over 10 years.
The company, founded in 1948 in Prospect, is consistently one of the town’s top five taxpayers. Currently, it pays $156,338 in real estate and personal property taxes annually.
Now the nation is entrenched in an economic recession and the auto industry, another large market for Summit, is seeking federal assistance to avoid going out of business. Summit executives look down the Naugatuck River to one of their longtime manufacturing neighbors, Whyco Finishing Technologies, and see that company recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Quality Rolling and Deburring, located downtown, also is hurting.
Company owner George LaCapra Jr. said recently he has laid off 20 employees over the past three months.
Yet, despite the dire situation, Summit executives are optimistic about the company’s future.
Since the 1960s, Summit has plated metals, wire and individual parts for customers in the automotive, battery, aerospace and telecommunications industries. President Harry M.
Scoble, who bought the company in 2005, said its automotive customers comprised 50 percent to 60 percent of its business as recently as three to four years ago. Now it’s less than 25 percent, and the company is exploring alternative markets, such as the medical industry, renewable energies, fuel cells and turbines. It’s also focusing more on its aerospace customers, who are proving to be more profitable than its automobile clients. And in June, Summit won a nonexclusive patent for successfully devising a new electroplating process that prevents the formation of thread-like metal hairs that can cause short circuits. The company will sell the technology, which uses a mix of tin and silver, to its competitors and train them how to use it.
Scoble said it’s too soon to know how much this new technology will help the company.
“We’re not planning on it as a survival mechanism, but we’re pretty excited about it,” he said. “If this takes off the way we think it can, it can drive us far away from where we are.”
Summit laid off 13 workers about three weeks ago, but Scoble said he plans to hire nine back in March. The company has a new contract with Accel International Holdings, a wire drawing company that Scoble said recently moved from Waterbury to Maryland, that calls for tin plating 400,000 to 500,000 pounds of copper wire per month. The contract could generate $1 million per year for Summit, he said.
Meanwhile, the company also is looking inward to improve employee morale. In September, Scoble hired Billie Curry, vice president of strategic planning and business development, to inject a different style of management.
Executives now keep all 88 employees informed of the company’s finances — the revenues and expenditures — so they know exactly how the company is performing. And employees are rewarded for any cost-savings initiatives they come up with — not monetarily, but through trophies and funny recognition gags, like wearing Hawaiian grass skirts.
Curry said she also is beginning to work on developing relationships with colleges and adult education institutions to provide Summit employees training, internships and other educational opportunities that could boost their career should they decide to leave. It’s all part of a plan the company is projecting will boost revenue from $20 million to $25 million per year and add 50 employees in five years.
“This is a good time to assess where you are, build your forces and build those relationships,” Curry said. “The potential is really endless and I’m excited about it. We’ll be a stronger company in five years than we are now.”
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