The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

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    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
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    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
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    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
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    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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General Broach: Business taking off through aerospace contracts

Written by David Green.


General Broach Company's general manager David Graham doesn’t have to think back very far to remember when the company was on shaky ground.

“There was a period when a lot hit us at once,” Graham said. “We've gone through some choppy waters.”

Don Zuvers uses a profilometer to check the surface finish of a broach tool. Now, as 2007 unfolds, he’s convinced he can speak of those times in the past tense. Where so many manufacturing firms—including broach companies—have gone out of business, Morenci’s General Broach is not just surviving, it’s flourishing.

In September 2001, when the terrorist attacks in the U.S. ended up affecting much of the business climate, more than 90 percent of General Broach’s business was tied to the automotive industry.

Automotive tanked, Graham said. Excess inventories from the 1990s boom destroyed demand.

“Many of our customers went bankrupt,” Graham said. “Others cancelled contracts. The ones that remained only dealt with low-cost suppliers.”

Then gas prices rose. Corporate scandals blossomed. Outsourcing to other countries increased. Medical costs skyrocketed.

“As Doyle [Collar] used to joke, if it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all,” said Graham.

With this came an announcement from General Broach’s owners at Utica Enterprises that Graham can only describe as a good news/bad news scenario.

“After 10 years of lobbying, they said they were going to give us management of the machine division,” he said.

The Morenci plant had always been the home of perishable broaching tools.

“The tools we produce are used on the machines built by our sister division,” Graham said. “We need our machine division to be viable to support our tooling division.”

The transition was not an easy one. “We were handed a complete turnaround situation,” Graham said. “That division came to us with almost no customers, no sales, and no revenue. About all we got was a lot of warranty work.”

“When you're at the bottom, the only way you can go is up,” added production manager Larry Stover.

Before moving forward, General Broach had to spend a lot of time mending relationships. Warranties were honored and credibility was steadily rebuilt among customers.

“We knew we had to think strategically,” Graham said. “We made some errors along the way, but we kept moving forward.”

“Those mistakes became doors of discovery for us,” Graham said.

Production broaching

One of the doors that opened for General Broach is production broaching.

Graham said the company turned away from broaching production parts years ago.

“We had to because we were competing with our own customers,” he said.

Now there’s a market due to the inability of many companies to invest in new equipment. General Broach built an inventory of equipment by trade-in or by purchasing at greatly reduced prices, often due to bankruptcies.

“We have people who know machines and people who know broaching,” Stover said. “Why shouldn't we be doing this?”

General Broach’s production division has even teamed up with Versacut in Morenci to produce parts for Chrysler.

The aerospace industry

Another strategic decision was made to aggressively pursue work in the aerospace industry.

Industry forecasts were predicting high demand, a supplier shortage, and few competitors. The only thing needed was the willingness to take a giant leap forward.

“The status quo is the easiest place to be,” Graham said, "because it's comfortable. But we couldn't preserve the status quo with margins eroding and customers vanishing."

It was either cut wages, cut jobs, or change, Graham said.

It was a contract with Pratt Whitney Aircraft that swung the doors open.

“Once we were certified by Pratt, we had instant credibility,” Stover said. “Aerospace companies knew if we met Pratt's tough requirements, we could handle theirs too.”

"It took a while," Graham said. "We had to develop new skills and new attitudes, invest in new technology, and change processes developed years ago for automotive."

These were sound investments, Graham says. "Not only have we kept our work force working and maintained wages, we've been able to hire more people."

General Broach’s work force has grown more than 50 percent in the past 36 months, Graham says. "We now have the highest sales backlog in the history of the company—in all three divisions."

Meeting the challenge

Right now it’s General Broach that customers want, with automotive rebounding and aerospace inquiries arriving from as far away as Europe and India.

But success has its price.

Plans were drawn up in 2000 for an expansion at General Broach. Property was purchased and "then the bottom fell out," Graham said.

The drawings are still rolled up and sitting in a corner of his office.

But even if that addition were standing, it still wouldn’t be large enough to meet the demands the company faces today.

"We're relying heavily on sub-contractors,” Graham said. “And we're leasing a lot of space from Versacut."

General Broach is also considering other options in order to meet the considerable demand.

The company could continue to grow from within, but even with restructuring, reconfiguring, and retraining the growth would be slow.

"Our owners are considering potential acquisition targets, and we’re looking at the viability of strategic alliances," said Graham.

The course of action isn’t yet clear, but Graham likes the company’s current position much better than what he faced a couple of years ago.

“We've been working for three years to get out from under the industry collapse,” he said. “It’s been rough. Every person in this company has had to tighten their belt."

"Some may think we were just in the right place at the right time," said Graham. "But opportunity favors the prepared. Long hours and hard work are what got us here. There’s been no shortage of tough times and difficult decisions.”

Graham looks through a packet of news releases from the Boeing Company showing a new aircraft scheduled for production.

“Every engine on every one of these planes will have parts made with General Broach tooling,” Graham said.

“And from General Broach machines,” Stover adds.

“That’s pretty big news for a small town,” says Graham.

    - Jan. 4, 2007 

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