City News

March 25, 2023

Manufacturer at 20-year mark after starting in barn: ‘West Carrollton made us feel welcome and wanted’

Manufacturer at 20-year mark after starting in barn: ‘West Carrollton made us feel welcome and wanted’

Tom Johnson gets a bit wistful at the mention of Johnson Manufacturing Systems reaching the 20-year mark this year.

The company, which manufactures precision machined components and assemblies for a variety of industries, including aerospace, transportation, military, and commercial, began life in a dirt-floor pole barn in Germantown in June 2003, Johnson said.

“It seems like only yesterday that I was back in that pole barn by myself, wondering how I was going to afford a $50 tool or make a complex part with the primitive machines I had then,” he said.

When JMS outgrew that, it moved into a large, rented space there in 2004. But then came what Johnson calls “the best decision” he ever made regarding the company — moving it to the city of West Carrollton in 2008.

“From the beginning, West Carrollton made us feel welcome and wanted,” he said. “They were accommodating, flexible and had a pro-business attitude that was refreshing and energetic.”

Johnson said everyone with whom he has worked in the city, from the economic development office and the city manager to the fire department and the administrative staff, has been helpful and a key part of the company’s success.

“JMS wasn’t born in West Carrollton, but it’s certainly our home,” he said.

A mechanical engineer with a strong background in aerospace, Johnson also is a third-generation tool-and-die maker, which he said gives him ”the unique perspective of someone who has solid footing in both the world of theory and practice.”

“This allows me to quickly understand both the design intent of products we manufacture and have an immediate grasp on the manufacturing challenges of turning that design into a physical thing,” he said. “Further, having that broad knowledge base makes communication with our customers easy whether I am dealing with engineering, quality or the shop floor.”

JMS, which started with just one employee — Johnson — now employs 10 people in various roles with plans to add to that number this year with new products and projects coming online.

Johnson said JMS was never supposed to be a livelihood for him. Prior to his starting the company, he was “happily employed” as the leader of the machining division for Unison Industries (then Elano), a part of GE Aviation.

“I made race car components in my spare time as a hobby and to support my own auto racing endeavors,” he said. “One day someone asked if I could make a production part for them. I shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘Sure, why not?’”

Johnson said he had taken on a close personal friend as a business partner and they moved into a small rented space where they worked in the evenings.

“Then one day I woke up, realized I had customers, employees, and a manufacturing facility and couldn’t have two full-time careers,” he said. “So I made the choice, took the chance, and although the path hasn’t always been easy, I have never regretted making the leap.”

JMS expanded in 2016.

“We’d outgrown our facility and needed elbow room,” Johnson said. “With the help of Mike Lucking from the Economic Development office of West Carrollton and an ED/GE grant from Montgomery County, we were able to almost double our footprint to approximately 16,000 square feet.”

The company anticipates that with new customers with “exciting new projects,” it likely will be expanding again within a couple of years, Johnson said.