What really grind people’s gears in Roscoe? The dozens of workers at a company whose six decades of expertise is about to take it to Mars again.
Forest City Gear CEO Fred Young knows his gears. He’s been in the business most of his life. His parents founded the company in Rockford in 1955.
“I was 11 years old at the time,” said Young. “Child labor laws not being as restrictive as they are those days, I was pressed into service fairly early. So, you might say, I’ve got 61 years of experience.”
The company’s still going strong in a 30,000 square foot facility, now located in Roscoe, where Young and his family have built upon the foundation his parents laid. He graduated from Rockford College with a degree in English Literature, although Young translated to the gear making business with minors in Physics and Math.
“I learned how to communicate technological ideas in layman’s terms, that people who didn’t understand gears could understand.”
Speaking that language launched the business, literally: to Mars. It’s might be tough to find a company with products on another planet, but that’s happened more than once for Forest City Gear, and it is about to again. Workers have made components for three Mars Rovers: Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. They’re working on parts for yet another one.
“The parts are all serialized, then we do the inspection and charts, and all [of that] is traceable back to a individual serial number. Then they pick the best of the best that actually fly and go up to Mars.”
Space isn’t the company’s only business. It has parts on more than a dozen Boeing and Airbus jets. About 40% of Forest City Gear customers are in the robotics industry. Some products are made for the military, medical field, even race cars. The company is so good at what it does, about 20% of its customers are other gear manufacturers.
“Of course, they don’t come to you unless you can do something that they can’t do, or at a higher quality level, or you have the ability to do it in higher volumes than they’re able to deliver.”
The company develops its own workers. Right now, there are about 115 employees. Forest City Gear even has its own Apprentice Program to develop the skills needed. Young says the biggest obstacle he faces is getting young people interested in skilled labor jobs.
“There’s still a perception that manufacturing is old equipment. It’s dirty, it’s noisy, it’s smelly. There’s not much a future career path… that’s not true.”