The explosive medical device industry continues to grow a nearly 100-year-old Dayton manufacturer and has led to plans for a $23 million expansion and new jobs.
Norwood Medical, a privately held company, is one of the largest and most successful manufacturers in Dayton, but you wouldn’t know it about the more than 1,000-employee business.
For years, the Hemmelgarn family-owned business has kept its business dealings private. On Thursday, the company sat down with the Dayton Daily News for an exclusive interview at the company’s Winners Circle campus off Webster Street.
The story told by Chris Jones, Norwood’s director of operations and an 18-year employee, is one of steady but controlled growth. The medical device manufacturer’s employees work in eight buildings, with work starting on a ninth building — and plans to hire 40 more employees.
“We’re hiring all the time,” Jones said. “We’re constantly hiring. We believe in steady growth.”
The company has a reputation for valuing privacy. City of Dayton officials resisted commenting for this story because, in the words of a city spokeswoman, Norwood prefers to keep a “low profile.”
Jones declined to offer specific figures for revenue and sales, but he said the company’s financial and hiring trajectory is positive, with growth persisting even through the Great Recession.
While Jones acknowledged that the company’s leaders value privacy, he conceded that sometimes came with a price: Medical device competitors such as NuVasive have expanded in the Dayton area and have been open about their plans, while job candidates have sometimes told Norwood interviewers: “I’ve never heard of you guys.”
“We want to get past that,” Jones said.
None of the Hemmelgarns participated in the interview — but that’s because they were on production floors, tackling various tasks, Jones said.
“They’re not sitting in a glass office somewhere,” he said. “They’re working guys.”
A history anchored in Dayton
Norwood has long Dayton roots. The business was born in the 1920s, going by various names in its long history, including the “Dayton-Norwood Tool Co.” or the “Dayton Tool Shop.” Customers over the decades included Dayton stalwarts such as NCR, Frigidaire, Huffy and many others.
By the 1970s, the company was branching into components from tooling, producing bicycle and auto parts and components in other areas.
In time, the decision was made to focus solely on medical device contract manufacturing, with the name of the company changed to “Norwood Medical” by about 2005.
Jones declined to name the company’s customers today, but said: “You would recognize all their names.
“We find ways to make things that are difficult to make, and we figure out a way to make them from our toolmaker background, now meshed with our formal engineering side of things,” Jones said.
‘Affecting people’s lives’
Medical device customers can be some of the most demanding clients, seeking parts that come into contact with — and in many case penetrate and live within — the human body. This is an industry where good or very good isn’t good enough.
Norwood will delay a shipping a product if it isn’t exactly right, Jones said.
Said Jones, “It needs to be perfect.”
Workers are taught that what they create will come into contact not just with people they don’t know, but, perhaps, friends and loved ones.
Company leaders estimate that their products influence some 100,000 medical procedures each week.
“Our employees know what they’re making,” Jones said. “Often, they know what type of surgery it’s used for. They know that there’s somebody at the other end of that part.”
He added: “It’s about affecting people’s lives.”
While automotive and aerospace contract work hasn’t necessarily grown — and in many cases over the years, has shrunk and shrunk dramatically — medical work has proven bountiful.
Most recently, Dayton city officials unveiled Norwood’s plans to build a $23 million, 35,000-square-foot facility on Webster Street, with the intention of adding 40 full-time positions, at average annual salaries of $34,000.
‘We want to keep growing’
When Jones, a veteran of Delco Products, joined the company 18 years ago, it had just 120 employees. Today, it has more than 1,000, about as many nearby Mahle Behr, also a longtime Dayton manufacturer.
“Our mission, a little bit, has been to grow jobs in Dayton, Ohio,” Jones said. “If we do that, we’re adding to society, making a positive impact.”
Walk through Norwood’s buildings, and a visitor will see stamping, CNC (computer programmed) machining, light assembly of instruments, vacuum heat treating, coating of parts in clean rooms, welding and much more. Many employees wear white lab coats.
Instruments made here include endoscopic surgical equipment and many of the small, sensitive working ends of precision instruments — parts that touch tissue, cut, cauterize, clip and more.
Asked about the possibility of a 10th campus building, Jones said: “Hopefully.”
If there’s a ceiling on the company’s potential growth, he hasn’t seen it yet.
“We want to keep growing.”
Earlier this month, Ford Weber, the city of Dayton’s development director, said Norwood’s success “reflects Dayton’s continuing resurgence as an industrial, manufacturing city.
“It’s really great to see manufacturing jobs coming back into our community,” Weber said at that time.
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