A Brunswick County Success Story: Manufacturing Methods
Pete Peterson opens the door to the fabrication floor of his Leland machine shop, Manufacturing Methods, and says, “We’re not your typical machine shop.”
You can hear the pride in his voice as he says it. And he should be proud. The high-tech machine shop, which he and partner Matt Gunning founded five years ago, is a marvel, not only in neatness and order, but also in the technology in use nearly 24 hours a day. Peterson and Gunning have come a long way since starting their business during one of the most unsteady economic times in half a century.
Both walls of their 1,000-odd-square-foot shop are lined with CNC (computer numerical controlled) lathes, mills and turning centers, all cutting metal behind large viewing windows. Down the center aisle, tables, racks and toolboxes are loaded with blanks ready for machining; finished parts ready for delivery; fresh cutters waiting to bite into metal; micrometers that measure the parts to within one 1,000th of an inch (or less). In a building adjacent, another 1,000 square feet of Manufacturing Methods shop space is in operation.
“It’s a little crowded out here,” Gunning says. “We can’t wait to get into our new building this spring.”
Five years ago, when Gunning and Peterson started Manufacturing Methods, the outlook for industrial and manufacturing businesses wasn’t good. But that didn’t cloud the vision they had. Both men had graduated from Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) after studying computer integrated machining. Both had worked in other shops, and both had ideas about how to run a successful business. They found a space, customers and some fabrication equipment, and the rest, as they say, was history.
“We started out in a rough time, but both of us saw a lot of potential in the business,” Gunning says.
“Yeah, the potential was there, but the economy as a whole was in question,” Peterson adds.
“All we heard was how bad it was,” Gunning continues, “but we were fortunate because work just kept coming in and we stayed busy, got busier and started growing.”
“We still are,” Peterson says with a smile.
Since they opened the doors, Manufacturing Methods has grown to 16 employees, a number that, Gunning says, “doubled our expectations for growth.” Among their employees are several CFCC graduates, a mechanical engineer, specialist CNC machinists and even family members, like Mendy Peterson, Peterson’s wife.
Even though commercial space was available in New Hanover County, Gunning and Peterson made the decision to lease space in Leland’s Industrial Park on Highway 74.
“It’s a convenient location for us and for our employees,” says Peterson. “There’s easy access to the highway, so accepting and making deliveries isn’t a problem.”
“Plus it’s a great area,” Gunning adds. “Our expenses are lower than if we were in New Hanover and our proximity to Brunswick Community College (BCC) and CFCC put a lot of resources within reach.”
Both Gunning and Peterson are outdoorsmen, which is why they call southeastern North Carolina home.
“I love living in Brunswick County,” says Peterson. “My son and I can get out and duck or deer hunt, fish or just enjoy a day in the woods.”
For Peterson and many members of the Manufacturing Methods family, the quality of life in Brunswick County is a draw as a place to work and live. The outdoor activities, the beaches and the pace in Brunswick County are factors, but so is the explosive growth the county has felt (and continues to feel, albeit a little slower) in the last decade.
“We saw potential in Manufacturing Methods and we exceeded our expectations,” Peterson says. “I think Leland is a lot like that.”
Just as Leland and Brunswick County continue to grow, so does Manufacturing Methods. In the spring of 2012, they’ll move out of their leased shop space in the Leland Industrial Park and move into a brand-new building on Mt. Misery Road.
“Our new building will be four times the size of what we have now,” says Toby Flynn, Manufacturing Methods’ general manager. “We’ll have right at 10,000 square feet.”
“And we have the ability to almost double that if we need to expand,” Gunning says.
The move means not only expanded shop space, but also the addition of new equipment and, more importantly, the addition of at least five new employees over the next two years.”
Gunning says Manufacturing Methods is fortunate to have CFCC and BCC so close.
“CFCC puts out some great graduates and offers some opportunities for continuing education, and BCC has been increasing their continuing education classes in areas that benefit us and our employees,” Gunning says. “[There has been talk] about possibly developing some vo/tech programs to compliment what’s going on in Brunswick County, and that would be great for us and other shops like us in the area.”
But there are no other shops like Manufacturing Methods. Sure, other shops incorporate some of the CNC equipment, but not to the extent Manufacturing Methods does. None of the other shops specialize in the same areas or provide the same products and engineering/design consultation as they do.
“We’re more than a machine shop; we deal with capital equipment — in other words, we build the machines that make things, like this,” Peterson says, holding out a coin-sized piece of metal. He holds it up to the light to reveal an intricate cutout in the center of the disc. “This is a die for the brackets that hold braces for orthodontists. We did the R&D and fabrication right here.”
“It’s not just the fact that we work with capital equipment that sets us apart from other shops in the area,” he continues. “We design from a manufacturing aspect, we meet crazy-tight deadlines, our equipment is cutting edge and we’re easy to communicate with, those set us apart too.”
Manufacturing and machines and troubleshooting designs aren’t the only places Gunning and Peterson find satisfaction. Outside of work, Gunning plays guitar and has a son in the Cub Scouts, and both of his kids play sports. Peterson’s home life is similar, but replace the guitar with a passion for restoring antique tractors and three kids in soccer, basketball and baseball, and you have one busy dad.
“The bottom line is this: I wouldn’t live or have a business anywhere else,” Peterson says. “[Brunswick County] is home.”