February 19, 2018

New Britain metalworking family values their CT roots

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Siblings Rebecca Karabin-Ahern and Lucas Karabin are co-presidents of the family owned Acme Monaco.
Gregory Seay

For three generations, the Karabin family has owned and managed a profitable 70-year-old New Britain metalworks, shaping strands of wire and stamped metal into automotive and industrial springs, bearing rings, and value-added products to healthcare markets.

Acme Monaco, whose predecessor, Acme Spring, was founded in 1947 in nearby Plainville, is a custom metalworks shop whose previous owner devised innovative miniature bearing rings for General Motors. John and Helen Karabin bought Acme Spring in 1965 from its founder, a childhood friend, and over the years greatly expanded its product catalog to some 5,000 items.

It was a fortuitous event for John Karabin and his business, since both friends operated in the shadow of some of the nation's leading bearings producers at the time, among them Connecticut's former Fafnir Manufacturing and former Marlin Rockwell, now part of industrial giant TRW Inc.

That growth continues today under second-generation CEO Michael Karabin and his daughter, Rebecca Karabin-Ahern, and his son, Lucas, both co-presidents. The company's current name and business model stem from the 1972 acquisition of a rival New Britain spring maker, Monaco Spring, from Monarch Machine Co.

The companies merged in 1984 to form Acme Monaco.

Michael Karabin says Acme Monaco's intense focus on product quality and its treatment of workers as if they were family have enabled the enterprise over the years to expand its production and markets to Asia and Europe, and to establish a second production beachhead in New England.

In 1989, Michael Karabin seized on an invitation — and a pledge of economic support — from the city of Presque Isle, Maine, to open its first plant on the grounds of a former air base. A second plant followed in 2006. It's been a profitable relationship for both, officials say.

Last October, the Karabins joined Presque Isle, a city of about 9,600 residents, and state dignitaries for a ribbon-cutting of Acme Monaco's 16,300-square-foot plant, which is 5,000 square feet more than before. There, it makes orthodontics hardware, including archwires, guidewires and other metal components for kids' braces, as well as producing super-thin guidewires for medical catheters. The Presque Isle plant employs 70; another 130 are in New Britain.

Maine provided state assistance that, together with federal grants and $1 million in equity from the Karabins — mainly for equipment — funded the $3.1 million expansion. The city also fixed the company's lease, which includes property taxes, for the 15-year lease term.

Michael Karabin said Maine's availability of labor during the time when its jobless rate was high made Presque Isle's offer easy to accept.

Presque Isle City Manager Martin Puckett says the company "has been a very stable business and very important to our local economy.''

The Presque Isle expansion coincided with the recent expansion of production-storage facilities on Acme's 20-acre New Britain headquarters campus.

Relocation rebuff

Michael Karabin said Acme Monaco has been approached over the years by other states about relocating, but rebuffed them. Connecticut is home to him and his immediate and extended family.

Karabin-Ahern said the company tries to foster a close-knit, familial atmosphere among its employees, many of whom have worked there for decades.

"These are our roots,'' Karabin-Ahern said. "This is where I'm raising my family.''

Acme Monaco staff earn extra vacation or early time off, among other perks, for meeting productivity-efficiency targets.

The Karabins and their aides declined to specify revenues for the company. However, Michael Karabin said it expects to expand staffing 10 percent this year at its Connecticut and Maine plants. However, he said staffing remains a challenge for Acme Monaco.

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