Their presence is everywhere, but you don’t even know it. They appear on nationally broadcast TV shows, on the pages of glossy magazines, and line the aisles of well traveled Walmart, Publix, and Home Depot. You use them on a regular basis but don’t realize their impact. Products like Simply Orange is served for breakfast, Serringer Irrigation sprinklers waters the lawn, and Data Graphics labels appear on just about everything used in the home or office. They are national brand name products made in Lake County.
Their impact on our local economy is significant. According to Robert Chandler, Director of the Lake County Economic Development Council (EDC), manufacturing is currently the second largest industry in Lake County, just behind health care.
Adam Sumner, economic development coordinator for the EDC, said in Lake County today, roughly 6.5 to 7 percent of the workforce is in manufacturing. Not all of those jobs are in Lake County, but it is a very vibrant, robust workforce for manufacturing, attractive to companies already established in Lake County, and those seeking to relocate in Central Florida.
Historically, Lake County had an appeal for manufacturing.
According to Chandler, Lake County was the citrus growing county for well over 100 years. It is the reason the Citrus Tower was built in Clermont as a tourism destination. At one time, a Florida visitor would climb to the top and see hundreds of thousands of orange groves. Since citrus grew here, manufacturing naturally followed with bottling plants.
Cutrale Citrus Juices USA in Leesburg, Florida Natural in Umatilla, and Silver Springs Citrus in Howey-In-The-Hills are three of the largest citrus bottling plants in the world and are still active today.
When the citrus freezes of the 1980s occurred, the majority of local industry switched to housing on the former orange groves in South Lake County.
Residents began to see residential developments in Groveland, Clermont, and Minneola. Prior to that development, Leesburg had the largest population in Lake County, but Clermont surpassed it, becoming the most populace town.
With the rise of The Villages in the north end of the county combined with the move toward a healthier South Lake County, the number-one industry shifted from citrus to health care. Manufacturing is the second largest industry in the county today.
The manufacturing industry has grown steadily in the last five years, even with the downturn in the economy. Thus, it has been a stabilizing force in the local economy. Manufacturing wasn’t hit as hard as the housing industry.
There are difficulties, however, maintaining the necessary manufacturing workforce.
The average age of a manufacturing laborer in the United States today is roughly 55 years old. “We [Lake County] are probably on the high side of that average, and we have companies here that need to find a way to train their employees,” said Sumner.
The big issue in Lake County manufacturing is available workforce. Due to a rapidly retiring workforce combined with swift growth rates, companies are growing faster than they can find people to do the labor.
According to Chandler, part of the problem is the American perception of career paths.
“For the past few decades, students were directed to college classes and away from technical careers,” said Chandler. “Many college students selected intellectual academic studies that did not translate toward employment in demand—majors in anthropology or medieval Russian literature.”
The EDC is working with Lake Tech and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing to provide hands-on training and Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machining, which allows for precisely made parts at an exact shape and size, as well as much-needed welders.
According to Sumner, they currently train only 19 welders at a time at the facility, but that will more than double when the center reopens next year.
The efforts are effective. Everyone who completed training in the past year found a job before graduation. “We had to beg their employers to let them finish the class so that Lake Tech could show the graduation rate tie in to the acquired jobs for state funding,” said Sumner.
In order to assist the needs of manufacturers in Lake County, the EDC is currently opening the lines of communication among the more than 300 manufacturing companies by implementing a Manufacturing Taskforce comprised of CEOs and plant managers from local manufacturers, so they encourage other local manufacturers to talk to each other.
“Most manufacturers stay inside their workshops, do what they do very well, and clock out,” said Sumner. “It is a challenge to get them to realize that there are other companies around them with similar problems, solutions, and experiences that do not compete against them. Rather, some could even be suppliers for them. They could all grow together.”
The Manufacturing Taskforce plans a Manufacturing Summit later this year, bringing in speakers from around the state.
“That summit will serve as a forum to provide local manufacturers with informational programs the state offers through Enterprise Florida, Career Source, and the newly founded Florida Made—a state-funded initiative,” said Sumner.
The goal of the Manufacturing Taskforce, which is facilitated by Lake County EDC staff, is to provide local manufacturers access to resources they did not know were available to them.
For example, Progressive Aerodyne, which makes amphibious aircraft, discovered a local company, Plastic Composites, Inc., that provides a wide selection of protective liners, to manufacture their aircraft hulls out of composite Kevlar material. Prior to this, they used a distant contractor.
“Progressive Aerodyne now uses a local company, PCI, to make their hulls, because of the roundtable discussion by the Manufacturing Taskforce,” said Chandler. The forum introduced a local manufacturer to meet a local builder’s need.
American Marine Sports
American Marine Sports LLC builds high quality, fast, brand-name boats: Shearwater, Gambler Fast Boats, Sterling, and Blackwood Boats.
The hull design is where they mostly stand out.
“We use a few highly unique processes on our boats,” said Bob Ackerbloom, owner. “We build an outer hull and inner hull, bonding the two parts together and injecting foam while in the mold.” According to Ackerbloom, that has proven to be unbreakable, even indestructible. No one else uses this method.
The process on the exterior finish of the boat is also unique. The boat is cured in the sun, and then turned on its side to sand the entire boat by hand, like a custom automobile paintjob. The boat is then entirely polished, again, unheard of in the boat industry.
They produce only 1,000 boats per year, so they are limited edition.
American Marine Sports LLC has a modern 48,000 square foot, 13-acre facility comprised of three buildings: a fiberglass building, an assembly building, and a parts building, complete with a private test lake in the Christopher Ford Industrial Commerce Park, in Groveland. They moved to Lake County from Orlando in 2000.
“We water test every boat on site and deliver them to the dealers,” said Ackerbloom. “By doing this, we were able to create an exceptional reputation, not only for the quality of the product, but also for the level of service.”
According to Ackerbloom, 50 percent is repeat business.
A growing market for them is boats for public safety, such as sheriff’s office, state police, or marine patrol. They have been delivering many boats to those entities in the past two years.
The focus of Progressive Aerodyne Inc. is manufacturing both a kit and a certified aircraft for public consumption. The kit has two options: the 9-12 engine and the 9-14 engine. The 9-12 has 100 HP. The 9-14 has 115 HP.
There are two types of certified aircraft: the Searey Elite and Searey Sport. According to Bill Roche, operations manager, the Sport has a 100 HP engine with a fiberglass hull and intermediate level avionics. The Elite has a carbon-fiber hull, which is lighter with better performance. It has the 115 HP engine, with premium avionics.
“We manufacture in-house the vast majority of the components that go into both aircraft and the kit,” said Roche.
There are many different skillsets at Searey: a machinist, avionics electricians, general electricians, mechanical assembly, electrical assembly, and finish assembly technicians.”
Among those technicians, they also have aviation power plant and airplane mechanics, known as PNA, in order to service the aircraft to custom specs.
Eagle Quality Components
According to Mike Soos, vice president of operations, Eagle Quality Components in Tavares (owned by Tony Soos), specializes in manufacturing high precision CNC machine products and parts for the health care, aerospace, automotive, and IT industries.
They make high precision components, from metal, plastic, aluminum, or steel, that goes inside MRI machines, x-ray machines, and motor parts.
According to Sumner, they are one of the newest startups (founded in 2010), and have seen the most growth in the past five years.
PCI: Plastic Composites Inc.
With a fully equipped fabrication shop at their headquarters in Mount Dora, Plastic Composites, Inc. is a bulk supplier and full-service company that provides a wide assortment of concrete protective liners for precast and poured-in-place structures.
Their experienced fabricators produce specialty liners and liners for wastewater treatment structures on a daily basis. Their safety record sets them apart.
PCI spends a full day every month product training and qualifying their field crews, setting accidents to a minimum.
Burke Flooring is an eco-friendly company located in Umatilla that manufactures floor tiles, stair systems, wall base, moldings, and adhesives. Their products and services are used in various industries, including: athletics, schools, hospitals.
They are a green initiative; all the new flooring products need to have some kind of sustainable and/or recyclable material. The first product they had with LEED seal was ECO-Score multi-purpose fitness tiles.
The team at Azure Water is making a big splash in the water bottling industry through their creative custom labeled bottled water for private label companies and co-packers. The family-owned business, established in 2006 and expanded to Leesburg in 2013, also creates custom labeled bottled water for promotional or special events, like marathon fundraisers or weddings.
According to Ally Liu, owner of Azure Water Co., the custom bottled water facility is FDA approved. The purified water goes through a rigorous multi-step process that includes reverse osmosis, carbon and micro filtration, and UV and ozone treatment.
According to Sumner, Azure Water is bottling water unlike anyone else in the marketplace.
“They actually designed the production line from start to finish,” said Sumner. “Every piece of equipment is custom-built for Azure Water, the only machine in the world that makes their type of biodegradable, spiral-twist bottles.”
According to Liu, the water bottles are blown, filled, and capped on site. The eco-friendly, 100 percent recyclable bottles are composed of 25 percent plant material with 75 percent recycled material. All bottles are BPA-free and sturdier than most competing bottles in the marketplace.
“The bottles fully biodegrade in a landfill in less than 10 months,” said Sumner.
The manufacturing plant complete with two high-speed labelers produces 14,000 bottles per hour, shipping 5,000 cases per day, and continues to grow.
“Our water is exported to China with a ‘Made in USA’ label containing an image of the American Flag,” said Ally Liu, noting the reversal of the “Made in China” labels seen on products everywhere. “I have photos of Chinese customers holding bottles of Azure Water with the ‘Made in USA’ label.” Azure Water is also exported to the Caribbean.
With a massive 35,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, 10,000-square-foot R&D facilities, and 94,000-square-foot corporate headquarters located in Clermont, Serringer Irrigation reigns as an industrial manufacturer and designer of patented irrigation products. Since 1963, they have developed water and energy efficient sprinklers, spray nozzles, pressure regulators, and other irrigation tools for agriculture, mining, and wastewater use.
The products are innovative. In 1963, Joe Serringer created the industry’s first Insect-Proof™ Impact Sprinkler. Throughout the years, Serringer dominated innovation in the industry, up to and including the most recent UP3 Pivot Products, named in 2010 as the Most Innovative Agriculture Product in the Year.
The family-owned business has diverse lines of graphic overlays, nameplates, die-cut products, and labels. They specialize in manufacturing overlays for a variety of intricate electronic components used in industrial controls: particularly for medical equipment.
“Our core four client industries are aerospace, telecommunication, defense contractors, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers),” said Bobby Welter, President of Data Graphics.
A highly successful company in Mount Dora, the company expanded their facilities to accommodate more sales orders. Their state-of-the-art facilities feature Contech Die Cutting Presses, two lasers and two CNC machines for precise cuts.
Culprit Fishing Lures
Housed in a 25,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Clermont, Cind-Al manufactures the strongest brand name in the fishing industry—Culprit Fishing Lures. It’s affiliate, Classic Fishing Products, is the wholesale distributor and marketer. Both companies are mutually owned, and housed under the same roof, according to President Damon Albers.
“They revolutionized the fishing industry with the original Culprit worm,” said Sumner. “A significant advancement in the material and design of a plastic worm, still a favorite of fishermen around the world.”
Today, the company sells millions of brightly colored, life-like, plastic worms with clever names like Red Shad, Fire Fly, Pumpkin Seed, Okeechobee, and Tequila Shad.
Classic’s manufacturing company, Cind-Al, employs 30 people operating 25 machines. The company’s state-of-the-art machines produce the extremely detailed lure molds with specialized computer-to-mill port technology. At peak season—December to August—Cind-Al produces more than 500,000 worms per week, as well as other lures around the world.
The company sells the Culprit label to 100 distributors nationwide and exports to Canada, Australia, Europe, Africa, and New Zealand.
“Throughout the history of the company, fishermen have won prestigious tournaments using Classic Fishing products—one of the best ways in the fishing industry to brand and sell a product,” said Sumner. “When professionals win tournaments, as they have with Classic Fishing Products, every weekend angler will want to own the lure.”
G.W. Schultz Tool
According to Sumner, GW Schultz is one of the premier, specialty tool manufacturers in the world.
For more than 20 years, they manufacture highly engineered custom, standard, and modified standard carbide cutting tools. GWS is AS9100/ISO9001 certified and specializes in high performance custom carbide cutting tools, in addition to offering a standard line of end mills, PVD coatings, and a resharpening program.
GWS has a High-Tech manufacturing center in Tavares, and sells precision tools all over the world. They distinguish themselves in the marketplace by maintaining the highest quality standards and manufacturing excellence, quick turn-around times, consistent innovation, and the ability to provide custom engineering for application from Medical components to rocket parts and anything in between.
They are one of Lake County’s more established companies, despite their small size and relatively unknown presence. In their industry, they are a dominant producer of quality product.
Dr. Neuzil’s Irrigator Nasal Spray
The product itself is a nasal spray rinse, created by Dr. Neil and manufactured in office at Allergy, Sinus, and Asthma Family Health Center. It was an innovative solution to the less popular flush, the only form of conveyance at the time in products like the Neil Med and Neti Pot squeeze bottles.
Most people did not enjoy flushing, so they discontinued use. The innovation was to adapt the unpopular and unused flush form into a spray form.
“I thought of a way to take the same type of formula and use the spray bottle technique to execute delivery,” said Dr. Neil. “Compliance by patients went way up.”
The product is not medicinal, rather strictly all natural. It has decongesting, antimicrobial and antifungal properties, and a mucolytic, based on the oils used.
“There is no medicine contained in the spray whatsoever,” said Dr. Neuzil. “What we have is a half normal saline enhanced with essential oils—eucalyptus, menthol, spearmint, pine, and cinnamon.”
The purpose is the irrigate or clean the nose with the proper amount of saline. Too much saline dries out the nose, causing nasal bleeding. Not enough saline causes absorption by the tissue, leading to rebound congestion.
Surveys showed the product was chosen across the board as effective, easy to use, tolerated, and highly recommended to family and friends.
Since it was brought to market, Dr. Nuezil’s Irrigator is distributed nationwide with a natural products distributor and is available in nearly 300 retailers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. It is in local health food and natural product stores, as well as some Walgreens.
Technicuff Corporation is a Lake-County-based blood pressure cuff research, specification development, and manufacturing company doing business in aerospace, health care, and veterinary markets. The executive management has more than 39 years in health care physiological monitoring systems design and utilization.
Since incorporation in 1992, Technicuff management has worked with all the major physiological monitoring and biomedical instrumentation companies on their mission critical systems.
Recently, Technicuff’s ingenuity was tested greater than ever before. Contacted by Point of Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Wash., Technicuff was asked if they could produce a blood pressure cuff for an extreme case—a massive polar bear in need of a root canal.
True to form, Technicuff made it happen.
The ingenuity at Technicuff has not only reinvented a common product for better application, it revolutionized an industry, changing the way hospitals provide care and conduct business.
The founder, Bill Yandell and his wife, Julie, the current president, were representatives of a Japanese cardiac monitoring company when a representative from a blood pressure monitor company produced a product known as Cuff Em for sale. Cuff Em was basically two pieces of rigid, uncomfortable, and unattractive plastic sown together and was so poorly made, it burst after just one pump. Yandell believed he could design a better product. He accomplished it in 1992 and by 1994, the first product hit the market.
Yandell’s design was successful because he saw needs and designed solutions. According to Caroline Van Dyken, vice president of sales, Yandell’s design stood out from any other in the market by addressing two specific needs.
First, traditional blood pressure cuffs could give false readings. An agitated patient produces an inaccurate reading, as the agitation causes their blood pressure to elevate. The Technicuff was designed for comfort, eliminating patient trauma.
It was also important to have the correct size cuff for the patient. Many elderly patients have smaller arms, some the size of a pediatric arm. Typically, a hospital would use a cuff designed for a child on an elderly patient. The width of the cuff is smaller than the adult cuff. That produces a false high pressure reading. The solution required hospitals to purchase different size cuffs for adult patients, ranging from extra small/short to extra large/long. Yandell made his cuff adjustable.
These issues are important as medication often is determined by blood-pressure readings. The more accurate readings produced by the improved Technicuff actually changed how doctor’s offices medicated patients.
The design of the traditional cuff also allowed only a portion of the bladder to inflate, because inflation could collapse an artery. Yandell designed a unique 360-degree bladder to inflate entirely and an adjustable entrance area of the bariatric range from extra small to extra large. That design, combined with the soft edge tape and premium quality nylon cover, reduces the pinching, pulling, and bruising that cause complaints.
Second, blood pressure cuffs were not reusable, but disposable. That meant financial waste. Disposability was necessary due to hospital-acquired infection, like staphylococcus aureus, particularly MRSA. The need was to design a cuff that could be used more than once by each patient. Yandell designed the Technicuff to be “the most comprehensive economical solution to clean, sanitary blood pressure cuffs per patient, reducing cost by 60 percent,” according to Technicuff promotional material provided by Scott Van Dyken, director of marketing. Hospital inventory is reduced by Technicuff by 8 to 1 compared to traditional blood pressure cuffs.
Technicuff also manufactures on-site the hoses and connectors for the various monitors, from Space Labs to General Electric, so the cuff is reattachable to the hospital equipment and can remain with the patient at all times, rather than staying with the monitor, requiring patients to use blood pressure cuffs used by someone else.
“Once we take our hose from the monitor out, it has our [Technicuff] connector on the end, that allows the cuff to stay with the patient,” said Caroline Van Dyken, Vice President of Sales. “As the patient moves around the hospital, from the patient’s room to ER, get labs on or physical rehab—wherever—the cuff travels with the patient.”
The product is innovative. Its impact…revolutionary.
The future of manufacturing in Lake County is uncertain. The primary industry has shifted from citrus to housing to health care. Each one contributed to local innovation and manufacturing. Citrus juice bottling produced Cutrale Citrus Juices USA. Housing needs produced manufacturing offspring like Serringer Irrigation. Health care produced manufacturing and innovation like Dr. Neuzil’s Nasal Spray and Technicuff.
“The question,” said Chandler “is how do we impact—or guide—what Lake County becomes?”
What the EDC wants to see is the expansion of the health care industry, with a resurgence of manufacturing.
“We believe we are well-positioned to experience significant manufacturing growth in the future,” said Chandler.
According to Chandler, manufacturing compared to other industries is on the lower end nationally in terms of projection or growth rate. He asked, “How do we gain a larger share of an industry that is growing, but maybe not at the same rate as some other industries?”
The EDC states Lake County is well-positioned to gain a larger share of the manufacturing industry because of our workforce and history.
“If we maintain focus on increasing manufacturing, then manufacturing can be to Lake County in the next 10 years what housing was to Lake County in the previous 10 years,” said Chandler.
First, manufacturing is well suited for Lake County because regionally, unlike other parts of the greater Orlando area that has exhausted all of its available industrial land, Lake County has available, reasonably priced industrial land.
“If you look at the beltway around Orlando, after the new Wekiva Parkway (SR 429) is done, there is not much industrial land left anywhere in the beltway, except Lake County,” said Sumner. That is where the county has a competitive advantage, because of the reserves of affordable, industrial space with available utilities in place.
Second, local demographics supports it with skill sets that are needed. While nationally there is a wage gap, locally, manufacturing is still a solid, upper- and lower-middle-class industry that pays good wages. Both of these populations can find jobs locally, and the companies who need the workforce can find them here in Lake County, to make their products. In the end, everyone wins when products are made in Lake.