OKAY Industries of New Britain succeeds in Connecticut's highly competitive and changing manufacturing industry by staying close to customers, investing in its employees and technology, and constantly innovating to meet new demands. This, according to Jason Howey, company executive vice president and chief operating officer, is an old formula with a modern twist that has served the company well since its founding in 1911 as a local tool and die company.
Today, the company produces specialty metal stampings, automated mechanical and welded assemblies, and surgical equipment to serve a diverse nationwide customer base from the medical, automotive, aerospace, defense and other industries.
OKAY Industries' business practices have made it a success story in manufacturing and the top overall choice among this year's Business Champions. They're a past Business Champion, having won in the growth category in 2005.
In a difficult economy, where manufacturing has been particularly hard hit, OKAY Industries posted a 9 percent gain in revenue in 2008 over the previous year. Howey attributes this to the company's willingness to innovate as needed, leading to greater productivity. They've invested heavily in "tool builds," he said, and in automating their assembly processes as ways to raise productivity.
"It's all customer-driven, listening to the voice of the customer — to what technologies and expertise they want us to develop and being willing to take some risks. Being ahead of the curve for our customers by training on new and evolving technologies allows us to work better, smarter and faster," he said. He explained that OKAY Industries tries to instill in all of its employees a sense of listening to their customers and thinking like problem-solvers.
In addition, OKAY Industries developed its own apprenticeship program by adding technical and service expectations to the traditional requirements of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) that company officials believe OKAY Industry employees should know.
Howey believes there is plenty of career opportunity for individuals in manufacturing in Connecticut. The typical industry employee is now in his 50s or older, he said.
Connecticut manufacturing, he pointed out, is still a major economic driver in the state. It employs between 11 percent and 12 percent of the population and contributes about 20 percent to the tax base.
"The industry is very different from even 20 years ago. Today, it's all computerized. It's very clean and your technology skills have to be sharp. They used to say manufacturing was from the shoulders down. Today, it's from the shoulders up," he said.‚óŹ
Senior Executives: Greg Howey, president Jason Howey, executive vice president and chief operating officer Donna Lasher, vice president Shawn Russell, vice president of engineering
Location: New Britain
Local employees: 141
Winning Category: Overall