At Spectronics, making it all work somehow

Jon Cooper: Old pro thinking like an expansion team.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

So where does Spectronics Corp. go from here?

Founded by Bill and Morris Cooper way back in 1955, the longtime Long Island innovator has been to the cutting edge: Spectronics is credited with inventing fluorescent leak-detection systems – widely used by the automotive industry – and black light counterfeit currency detectors, not to mention the world’s first-ever universal ultraviolet cell phone sanitizer.

It’s been to Hollywood: Agents Mulder and Scully used a Spectroline UV magnifier to perform an alien autopsy on “The X Files,” while the manufacturer’s multi-LED forensic light source was standard issue on “CSI: New York.”

It’s explored the depths of human evolution, with Spectroline brand products playing key roles in the Human Genome Project, and it’s even been to space: Spectronics UV lamps soared into orbit aboard the space shuttle.

So a six-decade company that earned its first patent in 1969 (for X-ray film cassettes), has been featured in Life and Popular Science magazines, boasts clients ranging from bankers to dentists to biologists to aeronautical engineers … where, exactly, does it go next?

Forward, says Jon Cooper.

The former Suffolk County legislator, who’s been Spectronics Corp. president since 1978, isn’t shy about his company’s progress, even if he’s a little surprised by it. If you’d told him five years ago that Spectronics would expand its workforce by 30 percent in just 18 months, “I would have laughed,” Cooper noted, but no chortling now.

Eighteen months ago, Spectronics employed 160 full-timers at its 100,000-square-foot Westbury headquarters. It’s 210 today, and Cooper’s staff is ankle-deep in résumés as it looks to hire more machine-shop and marketing help.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we increased our workforce by another 10 percent this year,” Cooper told Innovate LI.

Some of the growth has been organic, while some has come directly through acquisitions, primarily January’s takeover of Bohemia-based Computer Numerically Controlled-machining specialist H&I Manufacturing.

The acquisition followed a busy 2015 in which Spectronics invested heavily in new machinery, including a cutting-edge 3D printer and a state-of-the-art automated bottling system, a key score regarding production of the company’s popular dyes. All three moves, Cooper noted, were made with the same forward-march intentions.

H&I Manufacturing, for instance, isn’t just a 25-year-old company with a strong reputation in the defense, aerospace, medical and automotive industries, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Bolstered by Spectronics’ international quality-control certifications, it’s a new force in multinational manufacturing.

It’s also an instant upgrade to Spectronics’ in-house manufacturing capabilities, allowing the Westbury company to further grow its operations and possibly even “re-shore” some manufacturing positions, according to Cooper.

While most of Spectronics’ manufacturing happens on-site, the company is occasionally “forced to source from overseas,” the president noted, with certain components brought in from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and various European sources. But Spectronics has “really made an effort over the past year to re-shore, to bring back jobs that right now are overseas,” Cooper added, highlighted by the recent mechanical upgrades.

“Because of our new CNC capabilities, we can now manufacture here some of the components we’ve had to source overseas,” he said. “So I’m hoping to bring jobs that right now are located in the Far East to New York.”

The same goes for the new bottling system, which may also prove to be a direct jobs-creator, Cooper noted.

“For decades, we’ve had most of our bottling done out of state, by a company in Ohio,” he said. “Now that we have this equipment, instead of having workers in the Midwest bottle our dyes, we’re going to have workers in Westbury bottle our dyes.”

Although other manufacturing companies, including some on Long Island, routinely struggle to find qualified workers to fill high-tech positions, one of the reasons Spectronics remains on Long Island is the region’s ready supply of experienced personnel, according to Cooper.

“Ninety-nine percent of our hires come from Long Island,” he noted. “We require a highly skilled workforce, and one main advantage of being on Long Island is we’ve always been able to find the people we need by recruiting from local schools and doing a lot of outreach.

“We participate in STEM expos and we have internship programs,” Cooper added. “When someone is looking for employment, whether it’s someone just out of college or someone we’re swiping from another company, which happens sometimes, they know who we are.”

That leads to the other reason Spectronics stays put, even though Long Island has what Cooper termed “the highest electric rates in the country and sky-high property taxes and all these other headwinds blowing against us:” loyalty to that Long Island-centric workforce.

“Seventy percent of our employees have been with us for 10 years or more,” Cooper noted. “We have employees who’ve been here 20 years, 30 years, even 40 years. And we have multiple generations, where the parents worked for us and now their kids do.

“Literally, not a week goes by that I don’t receive several offers to relocate to South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, whatever,” Cooper added. “But we really do think of our employees as family, and if we moved, we’d lose the vast majority of them.”

So, with its family ties strong, its geographic destiny assured, its capabilities enhanced, its annual R&D budget climbing nicely to seven figures and its workforce bulging, Spectronics’ main mission now is to continue innovating. Cooper said the company will soon introduce a new distinctive design for its dye bottles – it gave a dozen potential designs a thorough vetting, thanks to the new 3D printer – and is deep into takeover talks with a California manufacturer.

Although the president has already outlined a plan that keeps that hypothetical acquisition in the Golden State for three years before relocating it here, he’s holding details close to the vest for now.

Also hush-hush: A non-UV product designed for military applications that has “unbelievable commercial potential,” according to Cooper, with a big announcement planned for later this year.

Suffice it to say, “exciting things are happening,” the president noted – and Spectronics Corp. remains solidly in growth mode.

“I set a goal of becoming a $50 million business, and we’re on track for that through organic growth and acquisitions,” Cooper said. “We’re going to stay on Long Island and continue to attract topnotch employees, and continue to make this work somehow.”


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