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Veteran’s Machine Shop Succeeds By Design

From left to right: Lakeside Innovative Technologies LLC President Bob Hulchanski and SBA Syracuse District Director Bernard J. Paprocki.

Over 30 years ago the U.S. Army rolled out the popular recruiting slogan, “Be all that you can be, ‘cause we need you in the Army!” East Syracuse-native Bob Hulchanski joined the Army with that in mind, serving his country and learning skills as a machinist that would last a lifetime. Hulchanski’s relationship with the Army has come full circle, now that his small business supplies precision-machined parts for U.S. stationed at home and in combat operations elsewhere. 

Hulchanski was an ideal soldier: the top graduate of his machining school in the Army and chosen to be in the first Army “Be all you can be” television ad filmed at Fort Hood in Texas for the 1979 NFL Super Bowl. He spent two years at the motor pool in Fort Hood, often rebuilding broken parts that needed immediate replacement during military exercises. Hulchanski served a one-year deployment in South Korea, successfully managing both American soldiers and South Korean civilians in the Army base’s machine shop at just 20-years-old. 

After his active-duty service, Hulchanski continued to serve in the Army Reserves as a drill instructor, frequently assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, or Fort Drum, NY. He spent over 20 years developing his management skills while creating a machining operation with about 40 machine stations and nearly 70 employees at Armstrong Mold in East Syracuse, NY. With the encouragement and support of his former employer, in 2006 Hulchanski set out to offer the newest technologies in high speed machining with his own shop, Lakeside Innovative Technologies LLC. 

“I really wanted the American Dream, to build my own business. I looked around the shop, listened to the machines running and thought “This is great, but it’s not mine,” says Hulchanski. “This was my chance to use my technical skills from the Army as a machinist along with my wonderful leadership experience working for John Armstrong, to help me succeed on my own.” 

An SBA-backed loan in 2007 allowed Hulchanski’s business to move from its temporary space and build a 6,500-square-foot facility in the Town of Sullivan Industrial Park in Chittenango. Hulchanski started his second year in business with one part-time employee, three CNC machines, and a 20-year mortgage, but he never doubted his company’s future. 

“I never considered failure as an option. I planned out every step ahead of time, and designed the business to succeed,” says Hulchanski. 

Hulchanski’s experience in designing and machining parts has transformed with the changing industry-from drawing part designs on paper and making parts by hand to computer-aided modeling and robotic production. This background gives Lakeside an advantage when competing for bids that other machine shops can’t match. Lakeside also stands apart from the competition with their on-time deliveries and flawless production of their aluminum and plastic products. First-time customers become loyal customers, and the positive word-of-mouth has helped Hulchanski build Lakeside into a multi-million dollar operation without any marketing efforts or company website. 

Lakeside’s high quality reputation led to many referrals and Hulchanski hired and trained more machinists each year, often finding ideal candidates among the county’s list of long-term unemployed. Teaching machining skills is second nature for the former Army sergeant, and one of the most rewarding parts of running his own business. Hulchanski regularly invites local community college students to tour his business as part of an industrial career course; one of those students was hired three years ago and has since become a highly successful machinist at Lakeside. 

Today, two shifts of Lakeside machinists manufacture parts on some of the fastest equipment in the state and ship products across the world to military, outdoors, electronics, medical, and automotive equipment customers. Hulchanski’s shop floor is bursting at the seams with over $2 million dollars’ worth of machine stations, and his latest equipment purchase of a 24,000 RPM Vertical CNC  is sitting on a pallet without a place to install it. His company is at the point of being overwhelmed with orders and needs more capacity to keep current customers satisfied. Hulchanski found help developing a Strategic Growth Action Plan in this year’s SBA Emerging Leaders program in Syracuse. The intensive, mini-MBA training program allowed Hulchanski time to work on his company’s future plans with a sounding board of experts and successful entrepreneurs in other industries. 

“Thanks to my experience in Emerging Leaders, I am moving forward with my plans to expand my business. We will shut down during the last week of December to triple the power available in the building and then in March our contractor will put on an addition,” explains Hulchanski. “The expansion will allow me to install more machines and create three or four new full-time machinist positions in 2016.” 

Next year may be Lakeside’s best year yet. General Dynamics, one of Lakeside’s top customers, honored Bob, and his wife Coleen in Washington, DC with their “2015 Defender of the Year” Award for producing over 30,000 precision-machined parts used in the U.S. Army’s MAN-PAC radio with zero defects. The backpack radios could have a significantly larger order from the Army in 2016, potentially doubling Lakeside’s initial three-year subcontract for the aluminum radio frames. Hulchanski is also pursuing propriety product development of aluminum trailer hitch covers for hunting and sporting organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. With Hulchanski leading the team, Lakeside is positioned for even more success.