In 1970, a former Pratt and Whitney employee, Henry A. Backman, started the aerospace engineering and manufacturing company HABCO in Glastonbury with only 5 employees.
40 years later, his daughter, Kristen Muschett, owner and CEO of the company, employs 32 people, and oversees a growing portfolio of innovative products. WNPR's Sarah Miner reports.
(Machines working on the shop floor)
It's mid-day at HABCO and the shop floor is in full swing. Cutting, welding and building instruments that will eventually become aircraft test systems and ground support systems. CEO and owner, Kristin Muschett, says she's proud of the impact her company is making.
“What I like to say to people is that we make the equipment that makes airplanes and helicopters safe to fly...
Not just airplanes and helicopters, but rockets.
In 2007, HABCO was contracted by NASA to design and build equipment that would test the thrust reversers on the solid rocket boosters – the boosters that lift the shuttle upon takeoff.
And in honor of their outstanding work, this small Connecticut company received some big recognition from NASA
“It was a wonderful day. ...it was the Space Flight Awareness Award from USA Space Alliance – we were one of 11 companies nationally to be receive this award – so it was a very big honor.”
The US Military is one of HABCO's biggest customers. Again the company designs and supplies safety equipment like the tire cage, a concept that grew out of a tragedy in Iraq in 2003 when a soldier was killed by a blast from an overinflated tire.
“in 2004 I saved a couple of emails from people that were very grateful for the tire cage – they were aware (um) of the sergeants death – very meaningful to them that the army responded with the cage – good protection for them....We're finding that there are needs outside of the aerospace market – we're in the process of putting some research into a tire screen – a modification of the tire cage.”
Shop manager Rob Stevens says one of the most satisfying things about working for a small company can be overseeing the whole process.
“...the tire cages, a lot of the stuff i've been proud of is, the fact that we're able to take a concept from nothing and actually create something from noting, test stand, tire cages – start with raw material bend it form it weld it – electrical group electrifies it mechanical group mechanically assembles it – and we ship it – that's really gratifyng to start with nothing and end with a working product the customer is happy with.”
A small company must also be nimble in responding to the demands of the market. Despite the recession, Kristen Muschett says the company has moved forward to develop new products that they hope will emerge as industry standards for aircraft test, safety and maintenance equipment.
“....HABCO reinvented itself again, we got a little complascent with the existing products we had, we had a real focus we really branded ourselves, from a company that is doing custom one-offs we design it once, we sell it once to a company that is developing new products we want to design once and sell many times, hopefully hundreds of times, we are really trying to develop that product that is going to be universally used by aircraft maintenance.”
One of these is a new device called a digital angle protractor that HABCO is designing for Sikorsky's Black Hawk helicopter. The technology will provide a new, automatic way to safely set the pitch for the helicopter's rotor blades even on board ship. HABCO works with big international customers, but Kristen Muschett says she has no intention of outsourcing to cheaper manufacturing markets.
“ ..HABCO has always been always desire to stay in CT – I also feel very strongly about buying American and protecting American business and manufacturing particularly on the military side. We have a choice to outsource our engineering if we wanted to – a lot of companies are outsourcing to different countries I feel engineering is a really critical factor in what we do – I want to protect our new product ideas...”
Engineering manager Mike Chymbor, who used to work at Pratt and Whitney, says one of the biggest bonuses of remaining local is the team atmosphere at HABCO that enables everyone to work on exciting and innovative projects.
“being part of a small company is a lot more satisfying and rewarding in those terms, I don't know if I could go back to a large company and function well – too used to it, too enjoyable.”
And with a goal of doubling revenues in the next five years, Kristin Muschett remains positive about the future of HABCO and and the prospect of creating more jobs in Connecticut.