In an era when America's greatest manufacturing export has been jobs, one New Jersey small business is among those bucking the trend, with the backing of the federal government.
In turn, F3 Engineering of Paterson provides technology and support services to the nation, especially the Department of Defense. This week, dignitaries gathered to mark the firm's relocation _ but only into larger quarters within the city's Historically Underutilized Business Zone.
That designation comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration, a program designed to help small businesses that bring jobs to underserved areas compete for government contracts. The arrangement is paying off for Paterson. With 53 employees now, the firm is the early stages of a plan to add 100 more over the next five years.
"The employees of F3 have had the heart to make this company successful and to make Paterson work," Mayor Jeffrey Jones said, adding city officials take no credit for "what the leadership and people of this company have done."
"It's hard to believe that a little more than a decade ago, F3 Engineering was a small start-up with only a handful of employees in the technology incubator at Picatinny Arsenal," said Odilo Vazquez, the company's president and managing partner.
That "innovation center" is one of several locations in New Jersey where government facilities not in use at the moment are available to start-up companies or those trying to develop new products or services. Terms vary, but ventures can occupy space for up to five years while developing, testing and beginning to market their products.
The choice of the arsenal location was made for convenience, "we've never done work with Picatinny," but it did suggest the company's interests, said Ken Rosenbaum, F3 general manager. "The goal was always to support the aviation industry, but specifically the DoD," Department of Defense, he said.
In those early days, F3 had just 5,000 square feet of space in a building shared with another start-up. But that wasn't overcrowding, since the employees numbered in the several, engineers with an interest in the aeronautical. They began developing equipment and services to maintain, repair and re-fit a wide range of aircraft.
"We started with a focus on mechanical engineering, but have expanded into electrical and hydraulic, so we're a complete shop," Rosenbaum.
A key step in the company's growth was winning certification under the SBA's 8(a) program, he said. Through it, the SBA provides mentoring, training, procurement help, even financial assistance, and a foothold to compete for government contracts. Much of F3's business became "life extension" jobs for U.S. Navy aircraft.