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triangle news Finding Ways to Grow as Industry Continues to Shrink BY BETH FITZGERALD MAY 2011 People from all over the world walk around with Triangle Manufacturing’s roducts inside of them. At the Upper Saddle River company, machinisits use computerized metalworking tools to make orthopedic implants, like Triangle Manufacturing was founded as a machine shop artificial knees and hips, which are supplying aerospace companies. Today, CEO Neal sold to more than 30 medical device Strohmeyer, right, runs the company with his son, Dax, President, as a medical device manufacturer. companies. New Jersey has been losing manufacturing jobs for decades, yet Triangle's work force has grown more than 30 percent in the last three years, to nearly 140. Revenue took a similar surge, and is now "north of $30 million a year," said CEO Neal Strohmeyer. His father founded the company in 1955, and over the years Strohmeyer has watched machine shops exit the market as their founders retired, sold or shut down. A key difference at Triangle, Strohmeyer said, was the decision about 15 years ago to become more externally focused. Most manufacturing entrepreneurs "are guys like my father, who have tremendous skills and gifts," he said. "You think because you were successful in the first five or 10 years of your business by making stuff faster, better and more efficiently, that's how you can fix all the problems. The real problem was they weren't focused externally enough." Founded as a machine shop supplying the aerospace industry, Triangle decided 15 years ago to enter the medical device business, initially supplying Mahwah-based Stryker Orthopaedics — still a key customer. Today, medical devices are 85 percent of the company's business, Strohmeyer said. His son, Triangle President Dax Stroh- meyer, said the company grew by developing the expertise to meet the increasingly stringent demands of the Food and Drug Administration. "The sandbox we play in is getting smaller and smaller, and that is one of the reasons we're able to grow," he said. "We are almost always willing to take on some of the most challenging components our customers have." For years, machine shops have lamented the lack of entry-level workers to replace high-skilled retirees, but Triangle took that problem into their own hands. Nearly a decade ago, Triangle's engineering staff worked with Bergen Community College to launch a two-year associate degree in manufacturing technology, and today, a half-dozen BCC graduates work for Triangle. Several years ago, the company worked with Passaic County Technical Institute to develop a program that has so far sent two graduates to the company. Neal Strohmeyer said he expects a few Passaic graduates each year to be "invited here and offered an opportunity to get financial support from us to go through the two-year associate's degree program at Bergen Community." G. Jeremiah Ryan, president of BCC, said the manufacturing degree "was an expensive program to start, and Triangle and Stryker put up some money" to build a manufacturing lab and help then-President Judith K. Winn enlist the support of the county freeholders. "When I work with places like Triangle, I am tremendously encouraged about the future of manufacturing in New Jersey," Ryan said. "What you need are more CEOs like Neal. He understands that everything is based on the employees," making sure they are trained "to get it right the first time — so you don't have waste and you get the costs down." The manufacturing technology degree started eight years ago, and it took time to build to its 30-student enrollment, which Ryan said is healthy. BCC also teaches certificate programs like computer-aided manufacturing; such courses often are compressed into days instead of spread out over months, because manufacturers "need people retrained yesterday." In addition to its external work force-development projects with local schools, Triangle has five full-time and two part-time employees who "are pretty much dedicated to focusing on staff development," Stroh-meyer said, including a recruiter, industrial engineer and director of organization development. Triangle does regular work force training in-house, gets training grants from the state Department of Labor, and has contracted with the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program to improve its manufacturing processes. Financing from the state Economic Development Authority has been critical to Triangle's expansion. An EDA representative said Triangle has been awarded five low-interest EDA loans, totaling $10.4 million, since 1995, which "have helped Triangle be competitive and grow in size." The company's external focus requires a lot of travel. Dax Strohmeyer said he logged some 100,000 air miles last year, visiting customers and attending trade shows in the United States and Europe. Staying active in the local community and the medical device industry has raised the company's profile, enabling Triangle "to go out and find the few really skilled people we need, and who are fewer and farther between here in Bergen County — where most kids are not necessarily growing up thinking they would like to be a machinist."
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