For 30 years Kaman Aerosystems has been successfully producing aircraft parts. And now, even with three buildings on 320,000 square feet and 450 employees on Jacksonville’s Northside, the company is looking to expand because of increasing demand for its products.
Jacksonville’s Kaman operations is a business unit of Kaman Aerospace Group Inc. headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn. But the factory facilities near Gun Club Road are an entity that runs well on its own, producing parts for fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters.
Fliers would not see Kaman’s brand or logo on many aircraft. But it’s responsible for manufacturing high-precision elements used in commercial airplane wings as well as canopies for military helicopters. Customers include famed aerospace companies ranging from Boeing to Sikorsky to Bell Helicopter.
Kaman was actually founded in 1945 in Connecticut but didn’t open operations in Jacksonville until 1986 when it was first located near the Jacksonville International Airport. Then it moved to the site off Gun Club Road in 2000.
William Zmyndak, vice president and general manager of Kaman’s Jacksonville operations, said the North Florida venture has proved to be a perfect fit for the aerospace manufacturer.
“We have a very good availability of workforce here because of our location being close to Mayport [Naval Station] and NAS Jax [air station]. We can get a very, very high-level qualified mechanic basically coming out of the military who is very good from a discipline standpoint,” Zmyndak said.
About 25 percent of Kaman’s Jacksonville employees are drawn from military veterans.
Kaman has added 90 employees in the past six months and still has about 20 openings as well as plans to expand its employee base.
Zmyndak said they always need new workers. They also need existing workers to be willing to adjust to constantly changing manufacturing plans. After all, the aerospace industry is subject to consistent evolution.
“Even though we have experienced people, we have to go and retrain them on the new set of specifications for each customer. It takes a level of upgrading and a level of refreshing for that workforce to ensure that they stay current with what the standards are today. And they [standards] are getting tighter and tighter as we go through time,” Zmyndak said.
But that’s the business Kaman is in and they thrive on it, Zmyndak said.
Kaman officials declined to release annual revenue figures or asset value for the Jacksonville operations. But they did say the company payroll for 2015 exceeded $26 million in Jacksonville.
Alex Patton, director of human resources at Kaman in Jacksonville, said while the company is thrilled to have a ready-made workforce for new hires in North Florida, Kaman still bases its formula on the company’s history in aerospace dating back generations. He said some workers at the Jacksonville plant relocated from Connecticut and still set the standard for new workers to follow.
“We have some of the people here who came from our Connecticut operation and have been with the company over 40 years. In fact, we have one gentleman who’s been here over 45 years,” Patton said. “A lot of the people that we hire … they have decades in the industry. So it’s very easy to hire talented people in this market.”
Workers range from the highest-skilled engineers to logistics to painters to sheet metal experts to machinists to the administrative staff and accounting personnel.
Ultimately, the products coming out of the Kaman Jacksonville facility end up on aircraft and are transporting people. Patton said that’s the philosophy that is traditionally behind the purpose of Kaman products.
“The first thing you learn in the industry is that your family has the potential to be flying on one of these aircraft at one point,” Patton said. “Your neighbor who may have been in the military is planning on coming home to his family with the aircraft that you’ve built.
“That’s first and foremost every day when you walk into this facility. …” Patton said. “So, you need to meet every specification. You need to be doing things right the first time.”
Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098