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Varney ratchets up for military market

While much of the surrounding economy swirls in a downward spiral, Gary Varney is countering the centrifugal force with every tool at his disposal.

He started the company in August 2003 after leaving Darex Corp. in Ashland, beginning with six employees and a 6,000-square-foot shop in northwest Medford. Today, Varney Manufacturing has 14 employees and 15,000 square feet of shop space, including a designated area for developing prototypes.

Until recently, Varney was the company's sole salesman. He did well for five years, landing contracts that included his former employer; Nor Cal Products Co., a vacuum chamber manufacturer in Yreka, Calif.; Bauer Fly Reels in Ashland; and regional helicopter manufacturers and operators Erickson Air-Crane, Croman Corp. and Columbia Helicopters.

"As the company has kept growing, it's been harder and harder to focus on everything," Varney admits. "I finally hired (an outside sales) rep in September to help me find more work."

Varney Manufacturing recently completed complex and expensive certification for general machinery (ISO9001) and aerospace industry (AS9100) that will allow it to provide components for companies manufacturing parts for jet fighter and commercial airline makers.

"Boeing or Lockheed Martin won't buy from draw shops that aren't AS9100," Varney says. "We're hoping to get more aerospace business because we paid a lot of money and spent a lot of time to get the certificate. The sad part is that the industry has slowed down since we started all of this."

Varney hopes to get a piece of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

"We were supposed to find out around Christmas, but we still haven't heard," says Varney of the warplane with short takeoff / vertical landing capabilities. "It's not worth a lot — $250,000 spread over five years — but it would be a foot in the door. It's supposed to be delivered in 2010, but I don't think they are going to make it."

The company also won a small contract from an unnamed first-tier supplier for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

But as soon as the $5,000 deal had been struck, Boeing workers went on strike for two months.

"That pushed everything back and we're still waiting to make the parts," he said.

Varney's machine shop experience goes back to aerospace contractor SPS Technology in Orange County, Calif. He later joined Darex in Ashland and eventually became its president.

Five years ago, his first order of business was to hook up with Erickson Air-Crane, the Central Point firm that provides firefighting, logging and other aerial services around the globe.

"I figured if you could make parts for Erickson, you could make parts for everyone," Varney says. "It was really tough and the drawings were old. The original specs had been done in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They were made out of materials that were common then, but they aren't common now."

The industry joke goes the parts are made of "unattanium" when they are made from materials no longer available, he says.

The Erickson work led to deals with Croman and Columbia.

Varney Manufacturing's latest client is Eugene archery equipment maker BowTech, which was a big hit in recent sports and outdoor shows.

The company has revenue of nearly $2.5 million. Not surprisingly, 2007 was better than 2008.

"We would have matched 2007," Varney says. "But the last two months fell off and we were pretty tight through the holidays. We've just started seeing things pick up again. Last week was the first good-order week we've had in some time with Bauer and BowTech."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Prototype shop manager John Griffin prepares a piece for machining at Varney Manufacturing Inc. of Medford, which recently obtained certification that will allow it to sell components to the aerospace industry. - Jim Craven