By Eric Peterson | Sep 26, 2016
Circuit board assemblies
Employees: about 100
Precht founded the company with his wife, Diana, after a detour from academia in 1987. He was looking to continue his Ph.D studies at Colorado State University and visited Fort Collins while living in Idaho.
"I stopped in Loveland for lunch and saw an ad for a mechanical engineer for a startup manufacturer," says Precht.
That company was Colorado Memory Systems, acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 1992. By that time, Precht had moved to Oregon-based Tektronix, but he returned to Colorado to start Vergent. "It was time to figure out something else," he explains.
He launched the company as a design firm for printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs) but moved into manufacturing in 1998. "When I started the company, we just did product design for original equipment manufacturers," says Precht. "A year in, a client said, 'This is great -- can you make it?'"
Precht jumped at the opportunity to diversify into manufacturing. "The problem with design work is you finish one product and you've got to find another product," he explains. "You manufacture and you keep building it. I just keep adding new products."
Vergent is industry-agnostic, and that's by design. "I wanted the chance to design different products," says Precht. "That promoted variety. It's worked out well and has kept our manufacturing pretty broad." Although medical work makes up about 40 percent of the company's business, Vergent makes PCBAs for scientific equipment and avionics manufacturers as well as locval consumer-facing startups like sprinkler-control maker Rachio and home sensor company Notion. "It's a combination of the right product and the right market and the right timing and the right people," says Precht of manufacturing for startups.
For the broader market, domestic manufacturers "are slowly becoming more and more competitive with overseas options," he says of U.S.-made PCBAs. "That was won us more and more business from our clients."
Adds Precht: "The level of service is so great that it is worth that [price] differential. We're watching their product. . . . We tell clients, 'We have your back.' That's really what it is."
Vergent moved into its current facility in 2007 and is now utilizing 50,000 of its 67,000 square feet. Precht says the company has grown and "fits and spurts" and has "clawed” back to where it was before the recession started in 2008. "It wasn't an instant leap," he says. "It did make us leaner and better. It was a tough battle, but it made us much better."
Case in point: Vergent's recovery to its 2008 sales levels have been accomplished with about 30 percent less staff.
"I run a paperless factory," says Precht. "You find a part in the field, I'll tell you everything about it." He says the thorough data gives him an edge. "Medical products are very stringent, but I apply it to every product we build."
Vergent grew by 20 percent in 2015 and Precht expects a similar uptick for 2016, then an even bigger jump in 2017. "We're already getting orders for 2017, which is a little unusual," he says.
Challenges: "The biggest challenge is finding qualified personnel," says Precht. Contract agencies have long been the go-to for labor, but that's changing. "We've bled them almost dry. Everybody has. Now we're back to networking type of things."
Another challenge is "regulatory requirements," says Precht. "That's not trivial. To do it right and do it well is a lot of work."
Opportunities: Precht points to dynamic growth in Vergent's medical business, and says he hopes the consumer products the company supplies will have a similar trajectory.
Needs: "To always be as close to the edge without getting bled," jokes Precht.
He says he's wary of Amendment 69 mandating single-payer healthcare on the Colorado ballot come November. "That one really scares me. The lesson should have been learned from the ACA that you can't lower the medical costs."