It started as a glimmer in the eyes of Jeff Kaney. Or, maybe it was a glowing ember from the recent meltdown of major Rockford manufacturing companies in the early 2000’s. Whatever the source, the spark caught fire, 12 years ago, when Jeff Kaney started his own company in 2006, Kaney Aerospace.
The Rockford area has a long history of manufacturing prowess. Most of those companies were started by inventors or entrepreneurs and some developed into major employers for our region and critical industries for the nation. In the late 1900’s our community saw companies being sold, manufacturing being moved, and production and services being outsourced.
The questions asked during that period of change were about what would take the place of those jobs and expertise that had been strong but were now being moved away.
Perhaps a part of the answer is starting to materialize as the community sees a big part of its growth occurring now in the aerospace industry. Smaller companies are now forming and providing products and services to the aerospace sector.
Jeff grew up on a farm in northern Illinois, served as an air force pilot, and then worked as a commercial airline pilot. He remembers starting with an empty building, hiring some fantastic engineers, and then making calls on potential customers, “a lot of knocking on doors.”
There is nothing like the next payroll to motivate a person to find business. Jeff, fortunately, had a plan for his business, and as he says, he has hired some very smart people.
Jeff sees other companies like his that are finding business and work in supporting the aerospace industry. He referenced a nucleus of similar focused business in the Rockford area.
Kaney Aerospace has now grown from the initial small group of employees to over 120 employees. In early 2017, Kaney acquired BVR Technologies. It too was a Rockford company founded in 1945, and even bigger than Kaney. BVR was made a part of Kaney Aerospace which now has over $20 million in annual revenue.
The company counts industry leaders such as Boeing, GE, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, Stryker Medical, United Technologies, and Woodward as its customers.
Jeff says “we have a very specific business plan starting in engineering services, moved to build to print products, and now we have our own proprietary products. Kaney Aerospace has grown to be an engineering, manufacturing, and technology company.”
The company has evolved into a company that provides a full breadth of services to its customers including initial engineering design, custom manufacturing, build to print, testing and lab design. In addition, the company provides lab testing for aerospace and medical products and builds and sells proprietary products. He says the company avoids “commodity” work.
Jeff sees his company as being unique; to be able to provide so many different solutions for customers. He wants the company to be such a good supplier to their customer, that they rely increasingly on Kaney. He says “the company must live and breathe quality every day. There is no choice there. We use the tenets of quality throughout the company.”
Jeff says the company started like your local handyman service. ‘We get hired to fix the lock on the front door, and, before you know it, our customer realizes we can do several things. Soon, we are painting the house and taking care of many of the customers’ needs.” Translate that concentration of talents and a customer focus from the handyman company, to an aerospace company, and Jeff says that is what Kaney Aerospace has become.
Jeff attributes his company’s success to the people that have been hired. He is proud of his team and serves as the motivator for a highly motivated group of team members.
One of the Kaney Aerospace buildings is located close to the Chicago Rockford International Airport. Jeff strongly believes the airport is a major economic driver for the community.
Jeff feels fortunate to be operating in the Rockford area. He referred to a study sponsored by Congressman Don Manzullo, which concluded that aerospace was a strength of the community even back in 2005.
Jeff says “engineering and manufacturing is in the community’s DNA. We have a long tradition of manufacturing in our area. Kaney Aerospace can obtain support services such as engineering, grinding, boring, machine shop, and fabrication from companies that are only a short pickup truck trip away from our company. The company outsources very little outside of the community.” He calls that the hidden jewel for those in the manufacturing business today. “It’s all here in Rockford.”
By JAC, RAEDC correspondent