Edward Fred, the CEO of CPI Aero Inc., exited the shop where his skilled aircraft mechanics were meticulously building parts for military planes and other jets when he turned and said, “We’re damn proud of it.”
He was referring to the Edgewood-based aircraft parts company’s new 171,000-square foot facility that Fred and more than 100 of his employees moved into in December. With the advance, CPI is aiming to fight back against years of decline in the Long Island defense industry.
Fred, a former accountant turned CEO of the company, is quickly getting used to CPI’s new pad. It is three times the size of its previous facility across the street from where the company is now building parts to serve “the warfighter,” as in the military service members who fly the aircraft CPI’s products are in.
“You have, perhaps, one of the most important jobs in the world,” Fred said about his company earlier this week while giving a reporter a tour of the complex. “People are out there protecting you, our job is to make sure they have the right equipment to do it; so there’s a tremendous amount of pride that goes into making every single part of an airplane.”
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month, LI business leaders, politicians and business groups went on a tour of the new complex.
“I was highly impressed,” said Bill Wahlig, executive director of Long Island Forum For Technology, who was at the event. “And I look forward to him completing the building with additional work.”
The facility is at 55 percent capacity, said Fred, and he hopes to continue to grow the company as it works on contracts with aerospace companies like Boeing and Sikorsky.
They do non-military work, too. CPI will soon start making parts for the HondaJet, a brand new corporate aircraft made by auto manufacturer Honda that will seat somewhere between four and six people.
While LI saw a number of companies that went under during the Great Recession, CPI was able to fight through it. Fred has his sights set on going only in one direction—up.
Five years ago CPI had 60 employees. Now it employs more than 160 workers, adding 65 jobs last year alone, “and looking to add more as we continue to grow,” Fred said.
The pictures that line the wall of the facility—images of employees donned in hardhats, protective goggles and ear plugs—conjures memories of LI’s celebrated aerospace industry heyday.
Once the home to pioneers in aviation, LI’s defense industry took a nosedive when Grumman was acquired by Northrop in 1994 and Fairchild closed major manufacturing plants here. But CPI Aero is here today to show that LI’s once booming defense industry did not go bust.
“I think it’s still alive and well,” Fred said. “It’s just not going to be the size it was.”
Employment in the industry has fluctuated over the past decade. The number of jobs reached a recent high in 2006 with 4,161 people employed on LI, according to the New York State Department of Labor. In the second quarter of 2011 that total fell to 3,617, but it was up 141 from 2010.
“The employment in this sector in Nassau seems to have taken slightly more of a hit than that in Suffolk—where CPI is located—over the past few years, but employment in both counties seems to have rebounded somewhat between” the second-quarters of 2010 and 2011, said Michael Crowell, senior economist with the state labor department, in an e-mail.
Back at the Edgewood shop, the constant shrieks of screws slowly piercing metal is proof that the aerospace industry hasn’t seen its final days on LI.
“A lot of that had gone away,” said Fred. “I think we’re seeing a resurgence in it.”