STORY BY MAUREEN JENKINS | PHOTOS
BY DAVE MARTIN
For some at the Boeing site in Heath, Ohio, there's the feeling that their facility is to the larger Boeing enterprise what Michael Jordan's teammates were to the basketball legend: essential, but also sometimes overlooked.
After all, they work for the only Boeing facility in their state. Unlike Puget Sound, Southern California, St. Louis and Wichita, Kan., they don't employ thousands of workers. And their somewhat isolated location prevents them from getting regular visits from top company executives.
But just like former Chicago Bulls three-point specialists John Paxson and Steve Kerr, the folks in Heath come through in the clutch, knowing they play a critical role to the overall success of the Boeing team.
Center Director Bob Weideman admits that when he goes to cross-enterprise Boeing meetings, colleagues often "read my name tag and say, 'I didn't know we had anything in Ohio.'
"We are trying to raise the profile, because we need offsetting workloads. We need to sell our capabilities. We think we offer programs a good place to do work—but you won't know that unless you know we're here."
The Boeing Guidance Repair Center, or BGRC as it's called, may not be well known within the larger Boeing employee ranks, but it provides essential services in the support of military aircraft and missile systems used all over the world. And Heath employees note that service with chestthumping pride.
After all, these folks are survivors. Before being absorbed into the Boeing fold in 1996, many of the site's employees were former civilian workers of the Aerospace Guidance and Metrology Center Newark Air Force Base. When the U.S. Air Force decided to close some bases in the mid-1990s, the place now known as BGRC was on the list. But in a groundbreaking move, the Air Force awarded Boeing management (which then was part of Rockwell International's aerospace and defense unit) a cost-plus-award-fee contract to take over the center's functions.
The first U.S. military repair facility to be privatized, the Heath site is an example of how corporate America picked up where the U.S. Air Force left off, maintaining an important community presence while keeping well-paid jobs in the local economy.
Heath—with a population near 8,600—is the sort of place where the local newspaper still lists the weekend's birth announcements and a nearby fire department's spaghetti dinner event. It's a place where the town's agricultural roots are still evident in the tractor supply store on Route 79, Heath's main road. And where "community service" isn't just about helping anonymous people you'll never know, but making sure that residents take care of their own. It's this spirit that permeates the BGRC, a facility short on Boeing history but long on pride.
"I think we've done a lot of changing" since the transition, "and it's been healthy," said Willie Hoops, a quality specialist in Quality Assurance who's been with the site nine years. "I really feel this facility can handle anything that comes its way."
Boeing Chairman and CEO Phil Condit recognizes Heath and its contributions; he's scheduled to make the Ohio site the last stop on this month's "Point to Point" tour—a tour that will specifically visit Boeing facilities with fewer than 1,000 workers. It's all about recognizing the various skills that the company's sites—regardless of size—bring to the team. And at Heath, they're working to polish these skills every day.
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Many at the Boeing Guidance Repair Center first joined the facility more than 30 years ago as civilian employees of Newark Air Force Base, a site that helped define this corner of Ohio's Licking County, said Business Development Manager Tony Panella. They do some pretty specialized work here—work that cannot be taught in a few training sessions. Many BGRC workers are in effect craftspeople, those whose work relies upon precision and attention to detail.
Here, under one roof housing 247,800 square feet of environmentally controlled and clean-room areas, technicians repair, test and calibrate almost every type of military aircraft guidance and navigation system. Heath workers keep the inertial navigation units for the F-15, F-16, F-117, B-1B, B-2, B-52, C-17, C-130 and C-141—many of which the U.S. military utilized heavily in the recent war in Iraq—in perfect working order. They do the same for Minuteman III and Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.
In fact, Boeing recognizes the site as a "Strategic Center" for the work it performs in electronic, navigation and guidance systems repair. The center regularly receives stellar award-fee scores from its military customers.
BGRC's technicians and operators are certified through Product Acceptance Certification, a quality program created after the center was privatized. With PAC, "you train the employees and authorize them to accept their own work as opposed to inspecting their work," said Quality Assurance and Integrated Training Network Manager Jerry Stricklett. He said that Integrated Defense Systems has identified PAC as a "Best Practice."
Many units keep the Boeing Guidance Repair Center functioning. There's the Measurement and Test Equipment Laboratory, which performs complex tests and analyzes and ensures that key testing equipment is perfectly calibrated and repaired. The center's Aerospace Machining and Support group—which operates a full-service machine shop—produces, repairs, reengineers and designs parts needed for the aircraft navigation and missile guidance systems serviced by BGRC.
The Minuteman III Guidance Replacement Program is charged with extending the lives of these missiles until the year 2020. The unit—which began upgrading the missile systems in 1999—handles about 25 per month, said ICBM Systems Repair Manager Mike Murasky. And his experienced crew does its work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Then there's Aircraft Systems, which occupies the largest amount of square footage at BGRC, and employs between 240 and 260 workers—more than one-third of the site's staff. On the Aircraft Systems team, for example, technicians—who are certified to work on all products—move themselves to different areas, depending on workload needs. Because many of these workers have more than 30 years of experience, Integrated Product Teams and Integrated Repair Teams allow folks to take ownership of their work and deliver customer-driven service. About 96 percent of Aircraft Systems' work is done for the U.S. Air Force.
Leading the on-site Heath teams are original equipment manufacturers from companies like BAE Systems, Honeywell, and Raytheon. While most original-equipment manufacturers are usually based offsite, the Boeing Guidance Repair Center's teaming agreements ensure that the center can provide affordable support needed for the repair and maintenance of systems down to the smallest component level.
"One of my top priorities is protecting my skill base," said Aircraft Program Manager Dan Conley. "The technicians on the floor are this facility. The only way to protect them is to keep work coming in."
That's why the BGRC is trying to stretch beyond its known capabilities as a "repairs and spares" site and move into manufacturing. The center's new Mod-7 wafer production —which transitioned to BGRC last year—supports the Minuteman III flight test program. While Mod-7 is a relatively small job, Center Director Weideman said it's a way for the center to further integrate itself into the Boeing enterprise.
"There is a place in the new philosophy for us, and there are things that are going to be built by The Boeing Company," he said. "And as long as there are products being built, there will be a need to sustain them after they're built."
New-business development isn't just Weideman's job, but also his direct reports'. They know that "mining our existing customer" is one of the best ways to solicit additional work. As he said, "We're pushing harder on 'Let's take the customers who like us and see what else we can do.'"
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The Boeing Heath facility is a closeknit place—one where managers and hourly workers greet each other in the halls with genuine smiles and hellos. Weideman hosts monthly breakfasts with selected groups of employees, sharing his thoughts and hearing theirs as he has since the 1996 transition. And it's not just a formality—it's all part of the mutual respect that's developed among the people who work here.
"It's a combination of being in a small community where there are a lot of neighbors and relatives working here," said Julie Auld, senior buyer, Purchasing. She's a subcontract administrator for Aircraft Systems. "They have watched their children grow, have watched marriages, divorces, grandchildren. There could have been a management group that could dismantle a feeling like that," she said, but the employees have maintained this "family" feeling throughout the Boeing transition.
"You don't walk by any manager's door and see it closed," added John Allberry, a BGRC Instructional Designer for the past three years. "It starts at the top and flows down."
And this pull-together mentality has helped ease newer BGRC workers—some of whom weren't yet born when their colleagues started working at Newark AFB—into the fold. "We bring in our young talent," Dan Conley said.
"We know we have to give 'em a good environment and a good benefit. In this locality, we have an extremely good base." He mentions nearby schools such as Central Ohio Technical College, DeVry University, and Ohio State University, which has a branch in nearby Newark.
"As these folks retire," Jerry Stricklett said, "naturally we've had a younger group move up and into our organization—and it's great to have the mix."
Today, Boeing Guidance Repair Center workers embrace their relatively new Boeing heritage right along with their military one. Most of these employees went from working for Newark AFB to Rockwell to Boeing in a flash, and although it wasn't always easy, they seem to have adapted to their current employer's way of doing business.
And they take advantage of what the company offers. About 13 percent of current employees are benefiting from Boeing's Learning Together program, said Dawn Pettit-West, who heads BGRC's Community Relations.
"At the age of 57, I went to college for the first time and had a ball," said Bonnie Rine, an ICBM Aerospace Products Technician who's worked at the facility for 22 years.
One Boeing trait that proved an easy fit was the company's dedication to community involvement.
"Of the help that we give the community, the stuff we do," said ICBM Aerospace Products Technician Chris Taylor, "the Junior Achievement program—where we go to the schools and teach the kids—makes me feel good that the company gets behind it."
As Weideman said, "Typically, air bases are involved with their communities, so we had a good legacy." He asks his direct reports to perform public service as part of their commitment to the company. "From the very beginning, we told [local leaders] one of our Boeing charters is to be a good neighbor."
Since its inception in 1996, the BGRC has invested more than $500,000 in local charity contributions. The site's Employees Community Fund has given nearly $200,000 during that same time. And BGRC has been a corporate county leader in its support of Operation Feed, which supplies food and funding to the Food Pantry Network of Licking County and other area nonprofit organizations.
Not only do Heath employees share their dollars, but they also share their time. The Licking County Coalition for Housing is a grateful recipient of both.
"Licking County is a very hands-on place to be, I think," said Deb Tegtmeyer, the Coalition's executive director. "Whenever we've pulled together people to do some problem solving—in our case, homelessness and affordable housing—people don't show up with agendas. Most people are anxious to hear about the problem and see what they can do about it."
Tegtmeyer relates an instance last summer where about 20 BGRC employees and their children volunteered to help landscape one of the Coalition's apartment complexes, one that served as transitional housing for troubled families. The June day was frigid and rainy, but the Boeing workers spent hours tearing out old shrubbery and adding new plants.
"When we were running short of a few things," she said, "a couple of the volunteers decided what we really needed were some Roses of Sharon and some other things, and they went out and bought them." One BGRC worker went to her own yard, got some of her Roses of Sharon, and brought them back to the site for planting.
On the corporate side, Tegtmeyer said, "One of the first things [BGRC leaders] did right off the bat that I was impressed with was that they got out into the community right away, introduced themselves and found out what the community was about ... . I think that left a very good impression."
Like many U.S. communities, Heath has suffered from corporate downsizing and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs. That's why Heath Mayor Dan Dupps said Boeing's presence is so important.
"It's critical because [corporations] are who this community is looking to" to help improve its quality of life, he said. Not only does Boeing sponsor the annual Kids First Festival and Center of Science and Industry, but the company also helped revitalize an old gymnasium near the BGRC site, encouraging the city of Heath to convert it into a recreation center that's become the toast of the town.
"It has made a huge impact, and that goes from children to young people to adults to the whole community," Dupps said.
"It was the BGRC that said, 'We've got all these people out here, and what can we do to make this a better place to work?'" Dupps said. "If it wasn't for a workforce that pays a lot of taxes, we wouldn't have been able to convince our citizens, our council, and our community. It's been a great success story for this community."
Not only is the Boeing Guidance Repair Center making a difference in its own backyard, said Dupps, but thanks to the center's work "this has been a front-line facility in the defense of this country, and I think it will continue."
As will the palpable sense of pride Heath employees feel about the work they do each day.
"Boeing is making significant international changes," said senior Purchasing buyer Julie Auld. "I know I'm playing a small part, but I'm getting to play on that stage and at least have a role."
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