When EMS provider Viasystems Group Inc. seemed on the brink last year of closing its Portland, Ore., plant as part of a major restructuring drive, Floyd Sutz and William Winther sensed an opportunity.
Last month, the two men dug into their own pockets to purchase the Portland business, which they named Vanguard EMS, for an undisclosed sum. Prior to the purchase, Sutz was vice president and general manager at the Portland facility and Winther was its vice president of operations.
"Viasystems made a strategic decision to focus on printed-circuit-board production in China, and North American EMS services were no longer part of their strategy," Sutz said. "Bill and I felt the Portland operation was viable, so we put together a business plan."
Both men had held senior executive positions at Laughlin-Wilk Group Inc., a midsize contract manufacturer acquired by Viasystems in November 2000. Privately owned Laughlin-Wilk also operated a plant in Lake Forest, Calif., that Viasystems purchased along with the Portland site, but which it closed a year later.
Sutz believes that by operating exclusively as a regional EMS provider with a well-delineated focus, Vanguard can avoid being caught in the economic downturn that has forced Viasystems and many other global EMS companies to scale back their operations in North America.
"We want to work with customers that have complex products and a low-to-medium-volume, medium-to-high product mix," he said. "Companies, in other words, that require all the capabilities that a Tier 1 EMS company can provide but in a user friendly package, and of a size appropriate to match their business needs.
"Despite the ongoing migration of EMS work to Asia, there are many customers whose business model is not well served by large contractors or offshore plants," Sutz said. "Customers designing and marketing products that are pushing the edge of technology have complex production and demand requirements. That's where Vanguard comes in."
The contract manufacturer has a total of 10 customers from the communications, industrial, medical, and networking sectors, all of them former Viasystems' clients that have decided to remain with the Portland plant.
"We look forward to seeing Vanguard EMS grow," said Brad Garrett, chief customer fulfillment officer at SonoSite Inc., in a statement. The Bothell, Wash., manufacturer of ultra-sound equipment has had a relationship with the Portland plant since Laughlin-Wilk days.
Vanguard EMS envisions adding between 50 to 60 employees to its current roster of approximately 200, according to Sutz.