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JR Machine, Schneider Resource Holdings partnership prepares for liftoff

Complex parts manufacturer secures investment, looks to grow business in space exploration industry and beyond

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June 3, 2024

SHAWANO – What began as a general machine shop in the City of Shawano has evolved into a truly far-out manufacturer.

According to President Parker Tumanic, JR Machine (1355 Beauprey Road) has always set its sights on solving increasingly complex problems for its customers – a mindset that has driven the company’s progress since his father Tim founded the company in 1992.

“We never settled for less,” he said. “It was always – once you achieve this milestone, what are you going to do next to recreate yourself?”

This business model, Tumanic said, has led JR Machine to pursue highly specialized and often mission-critical parts for companies from a range of industries – including heavy machinery, hydraulics, fire suppression, renewable energy and “the final frontier” – space exploration.

“We used to make parts for lawnmowers in the beginning – that wasn’t exciting to come to work and make those,” he said. “Having the evolution from knowing we started here – to opening up the news and seeing our parts are on spaceships going up in the sky, and being a part of it and (knowing) the inner workings of this industry – it’s cool.”

Tumanic said JR Machine made its maiden voyage into the aerospace industry – including more traditional and commercial air travel, as well as satellites and space exploration – in 2020 when it earned the necessary certification amid the limitations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were one of the companies that said, ‘how are we going to make use of our time?’” he said. “We needed to keep everybody employed here, so we went and got our AS9100 certification, which allows you to make parts for aerospace.”

Tumanic said JR Machine then did a sales and marketing program around aerospace in California.

“We weren’t dead set on space exploration – we were out there for general aerospace – but once we got that first hit on space exploration, (we knew) this is where we want to be,” he said. “Then we started blossoming from that.”

The space industry itself, Tumanic said, was likewise growing as companies sought to build more rockets, leading him to recognize the company – which has fewer than 50 employees – would benefit from a boost of its own.

“We were at the point where we knew we needed more overhead horsepower and management skills,” he said. “We needed additional funding – especially where the space program was going – so we had an open mind about investors.”

Stars align

Paul Schneider is the founder and owner of Schneider Resources Holding (SRH), the Green Bay-based private investment company.

Schneider said SRH was established in 2006 with a focus on growing privately owned companies in Northeast Wisconsin.

“When (Schneider National) became a large organization and had some liquidity, we decided we could have gone out and bought stocks and bonds – or invest back in this area,” he said.

Choosing the latter, Schneider said, also appealed to his passion for entrepreneurship.

“I love being around innovation,” he said, “It feels like Schneider (National) back in the ’80s when it took big risks.”

Since its establishment, Schneider said SRH has continually sought smaller, yet promising businesses to help grow. 

Schneider said when he became aware of JR Machine, the company met SRH’s investment criteria and piqued his interest.

Paul Schneider said the goal of the partnership is to organically grow the company to position it as a viable supplier in the aerospace industry. Photo Courtesy of JR Machine

“First of all, I heard about a company that was doing business with the two largest aerospace companies in the world – and that’s unusual in Northeast Wisconsin, so I knew they were doing some special things here,” he said. “So, I came over, met with (JR Machine), and it seemed to be a fit culturally. I saw a business we could work on together and build.”

Tumanic said the feeling was mutual on behalf of JR Machine.

“We knew someday the company was going to have another partner brought on, (but) we didn’t want to do traditional private equity,” he said, “So, when Paul came along, it was like the stars aligned. This was just a good fit because now we have two primary families who own this.”

Rocket fuel

Tumanic and Schneider said the goal of the partnership is to organically grow the company within the next five years – positioning JR Machine as a viable supplier in the burgeoning aerospace industry.

“The long-term goals of going to Mars – that’s far out there,” Tumanic said. “The immediate need is satellites. Global Wi-Fi – that alone is driving this (industry) in the current market.”

Servicing this market, the duo said, will be a matter of continuing and expanding upon JR Machine’s present expertise.

“In the gas and oil industry, we were cutting nickel-based alloys – and it just happens space exploration uses nickel-based alloys,” Tumanic said. “We’re able to machine these difficult materials at a high tolerance and precision. And we’re able to – which is the most important – deliver at the speed where (customers) can get their parts in a few weeks.”

Schneider said part of the strategy is continuing to do what JR Machine does well.

“(SRH) doesn’t want to fix something that’s not broken,” he said. “There are some things we can do to grow – but stay true to what you’re good at.”

Right now, Tumanic said they are in the prototype, pre-production phase.

“(Aerospace companies) are going to want to see growth from their suppliers, so whenever they come here it’s, ‘how are you going to grow with us?’ and ‘how are you going to sustain that level you’ve been giving us?’” he said.

Schneider and Tumanic said in the next decade, these companies are anticipating building nearly seven times as many rockets or “vehicles” as they presently produce.

“(Global Wi-Fi) is going to create the revenue drivers for space exploration companies, and then they can start talking about those long-term goals about civilization on Mars,” he said. “That’s where you need lots of rockets because you only can take so much payload – and from what I’ve heard, it’s about an 18-month journey there. They’re going to need hundreds going up all the time, so this is on the front end of it.”

Amid this progress, Schneider and Tumanic said JR Machine will continue to proudly service local and legacy customers while recognizing the extra excitement engendered by space travel.

“I want to go (into space) – I do,” Schneider said. “From a business standpoint, it’s easy for people to coalesce around ‘we’re going to send rockets to space.’”

From the ground up

Tumanic said he hopes the local community shares the enthusiasm for the company’s prospects, as JR Machine contributes not only to aerospace but also to the Shawano area.

“We’ve always been in Shawano, for the last 30 years,” he said. “Some people knew who JR Machine was, but in the last five years – because of that space market we’re into – if you bring up JR Machine to anybody in Shawano now, they know who we are and where we’re at.”

The company, Tumanic said, has long supported local events and charities, including the Shawano fireworks display, the Boys and Girls Club and the Shawano Speedway, among others. 

He said the company has also financially supported local high schools, providing CNC lathe and mill machines to help teach valuable custom machining skills.

Tumanic said it’s not uncommon for this education to lead directly to a long career at JR Machine.

“There are a lot of people who are in their late 30s that have been here 20 years already because they start when they’re 16 or 18 and they stay,” he said. “So, we have a group that’s been here a long time. That’s what I think makes this business so great – that they know the JR way and know what is happening next. They’ve always said, ‘everything you guys have always said (would happen), always has happened.’”

Tumanic said he credits the region’s naturally strong work ethic, the relative lack of nearby manufacturing companies competing for workers, JR Machine’s compensation and – more recently – the pride of contributing to advances in aerospace for the company’s talented workforce.

He said he estimates the average employee tenure to be 10 years.

Tumanic and Schneider said hiring more employees is certainly part of the company’s growth plan, though retaining its current team is perhaps even more vital.

“That’s an important thing – to understand we value them,” Schneider said. “They’re the reason this business is successful.”

Tumanic said he and the other leaders at JR Machine abided by the company’s policy of respectful transparency and met with employees in groups, as well as individually, to communicate the news of the partnership with SRH.

He said the employees’ response was “all positive” – a result of the trust JR Machine has built with its history of vision and reliable follow-through.

Now, Schneider and Tumanic said they’re “excited to see where this thing can go.”

“I’m proud to say they’re a partner, and I’m going to help carry on their legacy,” Schneider said. “I think that’s what this is about. They build something special, and I feel like I should make sure that gets fueled and funded.”

Tumanic said he couldn’t be more happy to have found Schneider as a partner.

“The chances of that aligning was just… there aren’t too many guys out there who want to invest in a machine shop that is going to space,” he said.

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