Celebrating 30 years of job shopping

Cedar Falls, Iowa–Iowa Laser Technology Inc. (www.iowalaser.com), a laser based contract manufacturer, celebrated its 30th anniversary last November...

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Cedar Falls, Iowa–Iowa Laser Technology Inc. (www.iowalaser.com), a laser based contract manufacturer, celebrated its 30th anniversary last November. Since opening its doors in 1978, the company has expanded its reach to more than 450 customers on seven continents, attributing much of its longevity to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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The company's founders, a blacksmith and two retired John Deere engineers, designed a custom movement system around a Photonics V1200 resonator for its first laser. In the early years the company worked for many industries, from avionics to hobbyists, even trying to laser cut frozen pizza. (This early experiment required interstate shipping across the U.S. The process failed; not in theory but in smell.)

The company's first jobs engendered a reputation for customer service with a willingness to go above and beyond the norm. In the first years it did not generate profits, repeatedly leaving the owners ”a few days from the bank,' but their determination brought a former Ford engineer, Mark Baldwin, to lead the company. In the early 1980s, despite the economic crisis, Iowa Laser finally saw its first profits.

Baldwin promoted the benefits of laser based manufacturing across the diversified U.S. industrial base. In dealings with the auto industry, Baldwin attempted to assert the Golden Rule as a means of finding common ground with an industry infamous for one-way relationships. After securing a 1985 government contract for laser welding a component used in the Star Wars program, Iowa Laser's performance on this work made it a well-known sub-contractor in the Midwest.

In the late 1990s, Baldwin assumed the CEO position and appointed long-time employee Sean Abbas as the company's president. At the same time, lasers were becoming increasingly prevalent in the industrial sector, as equipment manufacturers finally saw the benefits of laser cutting. Abbas assessed the new competition and decided the company's older machinery would not continue to meet its customers' needs much longer.

He transformed the company from a broad design and engineering company into a leaner, laser based manufacturing company by purchasing new sheet cutting lasers and press brakes and overhauling older equipment.

The timing proved beneficial to Iowa Laser. Since 1999, the company has seen consistent annual growth, with a 2008 sales record of $27.5 million. Somewhat insulated because of its strong core of agricultural industry customers (a market sector holding up in a down economy), the company is strengthening ties to existing and emerging industries should the agricultural equipment market see an economic downturn similar to the rest of the U.S.

As for the Golden Rule? Abbas and Iowa Laser are firm believers in the ethics of reciprocity. “We've found that supplying to customer expectations by clearly stating our abilities and delivering on those stated agreements brings people back,” Abbas says. “But our role isn't the only reason for success. Our customer upholding their duties is equally as important. The future market, just like it did after 9/11 or the 1980s farm crisis, will determine who stands on firm ground. We highly anticipate success in 2009.”

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