Central Ozark Machine, Inc. – Alton
The history of Central Ozark Machine, Inc. (COM), a manufacturer of extremely precise, complex, low-volume machined parts to the aircraft and aerospace industry, is the story of one family’s triumph over adversity. It’s a tale of patience, luck and good timing, persistence and ultimately success with MO PTAC assistance in an unlikely setting — rural Oregon County.
It’s a classic American success story.
Like many successful businesses, COM was forged by necessity. Founder Jerry Sisco, originally from Alton in Oregon County, had rheumatic fever as a teenager; it damaged his heart. Living and supporting a family in hectic St. Charles wasn’t doing that heart any favors, so he and his wife decided to move back to Alton, population then around 600 people. (The population has since swelled to 880 individuals.) There he tried the backhoe and dump truck business, but that too was quite stressful.
Sisco had previous experience as a machinist. So when a well-connected acquaintance with a machine shop offered to let him haul a machine down to Alton to perform millwork, Sisco jumped at the opportunity. He later bought land outside Alton for a machine shop. This acquaintance was so well-connected and thought so highly of Sisco that he asked Sisco to tag along on a visit to McDonnell Douglas (since absorbed by Boeing), introducing him to that firm’s purchasing agents. Such contacts are worth their weight in gold.
“And the rest is history,” says his son, Chet Sisco, COM’s general manager.
Chet’s own tutelage began after school and on weekends when he was just 13, and he plunged into full-time work as vice president and plant manager after college. COM was awarded its first contract by McDonnell Douglas in 1981, was named McDonnell Douglas’s vendor of the year in 1991 and added Lockheed Martin as a prime contractor in 2005. Chet’s mother and sister have also been cornerstones of the business through the intervening decades.
And Jerry? He’s alive and well and still helping the company navigate the sometimes-treacherous shoals of government contracting with the active advice and assistance of Willis Mushrush, business and MO PTAC procurement specialist with University of Missouri Extension at West Plains in Howell County.
In fact, the Siscos’ and Mushrush’s histories are intertwined. Mushrush met the family on his first day of work more than 15 years ago. He has since facilitated the firm’s introduction to the intricacies of the SBA’s Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) policy and helped it earn its small, disadvantaged business status.
Economically distressed Oregon County has been designated a HUBZone, a designation that helps small businesses in specified urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. And Jerry’s Cherokee heritage led to the firm’s certification as a small, disadvantaged business. Properly used, these programs can accrue large advantages for small businesses.
Mushrush also helped the firm develop a business plan for a major expansion with the help of Sherri Phelps at Missouri Enterprise. Together, the three parties developed an ambitious yet realistic plan.
Mushrush continues to redraw business plans as the market shifts and diligently pinpoints potential government contracts for the Siscos through FedBizOpps, the government’s bid matching system.
As a result, COM enjoys revenues of about $2 million and employs about 20 people. COM’s client list reads like a who’s who of American aerospace, with subcontracts from Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics, GKN Aerospace North American, Sabreliner Corporation, Thayer Aerospace and others for structural parts, brackets and other items that go into an airframe. COM parts can be found in the F-15 Eagle, AV8B Harrier, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning, C-17 Globemaster, the Harpoon missile, the international space station, the Apache helicopter and the UCAV unmanned combat aircraft vehicle.
COM also produces parts for the 60K Aircraft Cargo Loader/Transporter and the M1000 Tank Transporter for DRS Technologies, West Plains.
Being a primarily military supplier for customers such as Boeing and Lockheed is both a blessing a curse, Chet says.
While the work can be lucrative, the nature of the business calls for shorter part runs compared to those of commercial aerospace, an industry with far larger runs.
Luckily, the U.S. military’s demand for aircraft parts has no expiration date. And while military aerospace is fairly steady, Chet admits it has its ups and downs and doesn’t follow economic trends — another reason he and Mushrush are busy researching other markets and industries.
Most military suppliers in Missouri as in the nation are located in large cities. Isn’t being in a town as small as Alton a disadvantage?
“No, not really,” says Chet. “Shipping is not an issue as far as receiving raw materials and shipping parts. Freight trucks deliver the raw material, and UPS delivers the parts to our customers quickly and well. And our people are honest, hard-working, trainable and motivated.”
Besides, he says, “I love the small-town atmosphere and living in the country with my family [he and his wife have five children]. Every night is like going on vacation.”
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