SUN PRAIRIE — The next evolution for Toby Klusmeyer’s company has the potential to be its biggest.
Already an established manufacturer and designer of sophisticated circuit boards, purchased by an array of customers including Amazon.com, Pro-Active Engineering has completed government registration allowing them to work on Defense Department projects.
The company’s timing couldn’t be better as the U.S. appears poised for a big jump in defense spending. The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget calls for increasing defense spending by $54 billion, up 10 percent from 2017 levels.
Klusmeyer said Pro-Active isn’t interested in creating components for weapons but said there are numerous products designed to protect military personnel as well as treat those injured in combat. Pro-Active is already established in the medical technology sector.
Klusmeyer, who has a degree in electrical engineering from UW-Madison, never imagined when he launched his business in 1996 that he could one day be doing work for the Defense Department.
Last year Pro-Active increased sales by 62 percent, the company said. To meet demand, it added a second production shift and a third high-speed production line, raising the company’s employee count from 42 to its current 65.
“Where the company is today, I never thought it would grow to the size it is now, but I imagined the possibility,” he said. “It never would have happened though without the collaborative effort and willingness of the people who are here to help it transform and go through the growing pains with me.”
Hurdles to overcome
The Small Business Administration estimates there are nearly 30 million small businesses — generally, those with fewer than 500 employees — in the U.S. There are tens of thousands of government projects available for bidding annually and for its 2017 fiscal year, the government offered $245 billion in contracts for goods and services.
Doing work for the Defense Department involves a few steps. A company has to register with the System for Award Management, then must register with the Joint Certification Program through the Defense Logistics Agency. It’s also necessary to complete the International Traffic in Arms Regulations certification process through the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, a unit of the State Department. That last step is what Pro-Active Engineering recently completed.
While completing various registrations with the government may sound complicated, it really isn’t, said Deanna Dennison, senior account representative at Pro-Active.
Dennison, who has experience guiding companies through the certification process to secure defense work, began working for Pro-Active in the fall and suggested the company explore government opportunities.
“Pro-Active, just by the nature of the culture here, already had many of the quality-control processes in place preferred by the government,” Dennison said.”
Klusmeyer said with the potential for more defense projects becoming available, getting certified to do work for the government seemed like a smart business move.
“We’ve already had some successes, but you just don’t know what other opportunities are out there unless you try,” he said.
Behind the scenes
Klusmeyer initially didn’t offer manufacturing services. He got into it in 2002 after acquiring what amounted to about two semitrailer loads of manufacturing equipment for about $26,000.
Pro-Active played a role in the development of a variety of products in use today across numerous industries. Klusmeyer said his company designed circuit boards used in a prototype smoothie machine that was being developed for McDonald’s.
Pro-Active also designed circuit boards and wrote software for circuit boards for a double-sided grill specifically developed for Wendy’s restaurants, which are in use now. The company also created a component for another business that made sorting equipment Amazon.com uses at its distribution centers.
“These are the kinds of stories I like to share with our employees,” Klusmeyer said. “When you’re trying to empower your employees who do the same kind of work over and over again, it’s important to tell them about the end product it may be going into, and that’s what makes what they do very cool.”