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Published: 6/13/2006

Area firm's hopes fly high on $3.5M military contract

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

EDGERTON, Ohio - In the month that has elapsed since Ferguson Tools Inc. began making tools used to produce the nation's most prestigious fighter jets, orders have trickled in slowly.

But officials of the family-run company in this Williams County town say the pace will pick up, and they are pleased to have landed heavily sought contracts from Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md., to produce drills and other cutting tools for jets including the F16 and the planned F35 Joint Strike Fighter.

"We're very excited," said Kathy Ferguson, who founded the firm in 1990 with her husband, Bill.

The $3.5 million contract will make the firm less reliant on auto manufacturing and less susceptible to that sector's downturns, officials said.

Executives have been told that as the supply of cutting tools from other companies is depleted, orders will increase. The contract is for three years with an option for two more, said Bill Ferguson, company president.

Incentives from the state of Ohio and William County helped to make the project possible.

The state provided $61,000 in job creation tax credits and a $1.6 million equipment purchase loan funneled through the county. The company has said it will likely eventually double its 25-person workforce.

John Smith, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said he is unfamiliar with the contracts won by Ferguson Tools.

But he said the firm's selection for the prestigious

F35, which is a joint project of Lockheed, England's BAE Systems, and Northrop Grumman Corp., indicates that Ferguson is considered a "best value supplier."

The first F35 production model isn't scheduled to be ready until 2009, and the first squadron won't take to the skies until 2012.

But the U.S. military, which has indicated it will order as many as 2,593 over 30 years, has big plans for the aircraft. The plane is expected to replace most existing models, Mr. Smith said.

It will be used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps; England's Royal Air Force and Navy; and the air units of other nations.

Besides the fighter jets, Ferguson Tools won contracts to supply factories that produce the U.S. military's C130 and C5.

Cutting tools will be shipped to factories in Marietta, Ga., Forth Worth, Texas, Palmdale, Calif., and Meridian, Miss., said Marc Ferguson, sales vice president.

The firm was given the opportunity to bid on 3,300 tools and won contracts for about 10 percent, company officials said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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