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Business Brings Manufacturing and Jobs to Flathead Valley
Fifteen years ago, Jason Sonju was pounding out dents at his father’s auto body repair shop. Today, he’s director of programming for the family-owned business, Sonju Industrial Inc., which has acquired top-dollar defense contracts with some of the largest aerospace and defense corporations in the world- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
From collision repair to laser-guided missiles and assault rifles, the company has expanded steadily through the years, seizing on one opportunity after another. Sonju Industrial’s aggressive search for new business ventures has allowed it to expand through the recession, adapting to the changing political climes and mounting a firm reputation in the world of defense contracting.
The growth, while steady, has not been without its obstacles.
When Congress stopped funding of the F-22 Raptor in early 2009, for example, Sonju Industrial’s contract with Boeing was jeopardized. Although Lockheed-Martin makes the jet, some of its components come from Boeing, and Sonju Industrial was a direct supplier of those parts.
Opting for a less expensive plane, Congress shut off the tap and the contract dried up.
Fortunately, Sonju Industrial was enjoying a revenue spike in another of its ventures – manufacturing assault rifles. In fact, Sonju Industrial opened up a sister company to manufacture the AR-15, SI Defense.
Sonju Industrial has cultivated the “mentor-protégé” relationship with some of the biggest names in aerospace and defense, including Raytheon, a Tuscon-based company that is currently the fourth-largest missile manufacturer in the world. The corporations appreciate Sonju Industrial’s quality work, timely production, on-time delivery and consistent cost estimates.
Today, Sonju Industrial has a staff of more than 30 full-time employees. They program software and operate robotic machines, which cost between $250,000 and $3 million. The machines produce parts so small they fit in the palm of your hand, and other the size of your thigh.
The machines bite into tungsten, aluminum and titanium, constructing fins for missiles, lower receivers for semi-automatic assault rifles, as well as “fracture critical” parts that go into the production of airplane wings and landing gears.
“People are getting on these planes and their lives are in our hands,” Dick Sonju, president of Sonju Industrial said.
He’s come a long way since pounding out dents, and now spends much of his time sitting at a computer, programming data that tells each machine precisely what and where to cut, down to the tiniest fraction of a millimeter.
“You enter the wrong decimal point and that’s a thousand-dollar scrap of titanium,” he said. “If something zigs when is should have zagged, you have to start all over.”
Manufacturing these types of products is not cheap and requires a lot of capital. Sonju Industrial must get specific certifications and those certifications are hard and expensive to obtain and maintain, as well as the price of it’s raw materials and machinery. Luckily Sonju Industrial has been able to take advantage of SBA’s loan programs along the way.