by Mike Kroll
George Yu, who recently arrived in the U. S. from China, is president of Sutech Industries. His company makes lawnmowers. At this very moment, Sutech is in the process of moving its operation to Galesburg where it will be located in the former National Seal building on Monmouth Blvd. which now serves as the Galesburg Business Incubator.
Before National Seal made landfill liners there, the structure housed the aluminum diecasting operation of Outboard Marine Corporation which manufactured their Lawn Boy lawnmowers in Galesburg. Later this fall, lawnmowers will once again be a Galesburg product, only this time aimed at the commercial — rather than the residential market.
The story of Sutech, George Yu and Galesburg is really an amazing array of coincidences that helps highlight how random much of economic development actually turns out to be. Back in April, former Mayor Bob Sheehan signed a letter of intent with the Chinese Association for Productivity Science that supposedly was an initial step toward attracting Chinese business to Galesburg. Neither Sutech nor its parent company, the 70,000- employee China Pacific Construction Group Corporation (CPCG), has anything whatsoever to do with CAPS.
“I had never heard of Galesburg until I met Mr. Vern Stisser at a finance meeting in Chicago,” explained Yu. “During the course of our conversation I told him about Sutech and he said he thought we could improve our operation, work force, reduce our costs and improve the quality of life for our employees by moving to Galesburg. I visited Galesburg on a Sunday and spent approximately 12 hours touring your city, visiting buildings and discussing the pros and cons of moving to Galesburg.”
Sutech has been located in a 132,000 square foot industrial building in Aurora since 1996 and was but one small piece of a much larger acquisition by CPCG in 2004. Last December, Yu was sent to Aurora to investigate the Sutech operation where lawnmowers were assembled from component parts of both Chinese and American origin. The company had been selling its “Stealth” walk-behind zero turning radius commercial mowers for a few years to about a dozen distributors scattered across the U.S. In 2004, before Yu arrived, Sutech introduced “Stealth Z,” its first zero turning radius riding lawnmower.
The three-speed, self-powered, walk-behind mower features an American-made 13-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine and cuts a 33-inch swath per pass. The new Stealth Z riding mower is currently available in four models all powered by Kawasaki engines and capable of cutting 34-, 42-, 48- or 52-inches per pass. These mowers are too large and expensive for most residential uses but built of heavy-duty all steel construction they are designed for a commercial duty cycle. For example, one of the Sutech Stealth Z mowers is currently being used on a trial basis on the Knox College campus.
Sutech is an extremely small and relatively unknown entity operating in a crowded and competitive market. It must convince distributors to carry the Stealth line of lawnmowers when they could just as easily sell similar competing products from John Deere, Toro, Cub Cadet, Dixon, Husqvarna, Swisher, Billy Goat, Dixie Chopper and many more. When Yu arrived to evaluate Sutech for CPCG sales were less than spectacular and both marketing and production needed work. Lawnmowers are a culturally alien product to the Chinese; Sutech doesn’t sell them in the domestic market at all. They were new to Yu, too, but they are nothing new to Galesburg. “Mr. Stisser recommended that I ask Terry Tulin [former Director of Quality Control for the Lawn Boy division of OMC] to consult with Sutech regarding the company’s strengths and weaknesses,” noted Yu.
It quickly became clear that Sutech’s cost of doing business in the Aurora location was simply too high. The company had 12-15 assembly workers and a small management and office staff and sold a combined total of about 6,000 lawnmowers in 2004.
Yu was initially interested in Stisser’s own former Embraco building along South Henderson Street but at 16,500 feet it was simply not large enough to encompass all of the Sutech operation. “Mr. Stisser introduced me to Linda Utsinger [vice president of the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association] who showed me the National Seal building.”
On August 1st, Yu signed a five-year lease for somewhat more than 40,000 square feet of space in the Incubator with the option to expand as necessary. Initially Sutech will be sharing the building with another new, relatively small, Galesburg business, B.D.i. that manufactures stainless steel industrial screens.
Tulin apparently made a good impression on Yu because he has been hired as vice president of operations and plant manager for Sutech. He, in turn, has brought on Paul Cree, a former engineer with Maytag, as director of engineering. Together they, along with Yu have initiated the move to Galesburg by Sutech. DCM Trucking has already hauled the first few of an estimated 65-70 semi loads of equipment, material, stock and furniture from the Aurora location. This process will continue over the next two months as all Sutech operations are eventually moved to Galesburg. The Aurora location is currently up for sale.
Virtually none of the Sutech employees from Aurora are making the move. Yu has already begun interviewing candidates for the Galesburg office and marketing positions and Tulin says that once the move is completed he will be hiring plant help as well. All hiring is being conducted through Job Service and Tulin is confident that there are still many former OMC employees with valuable experience in the lawnmower industry who can help Sutech succeed.
already begun interviewing candidates for the Galesburg office and marketing positions and Tulin says that once the move is completed he will be hiring plant help as well. Hiring is being conducted through Job Service and Tulin is confident that there are still many former OMC employees with valuable experience in the lawnmower industry who can help Sutech succeed.
“Currently the walk-behind is the bread and butter of Sutech’s business and that will continue but the future growth opportunity is in the more recently released Stealth Z riding zero-turn radius mower,” said Tulin. “Sutech assembles both types of mowers from parts and sub-assemblies manufactured elsewhere. Eighty percent of the content of the walk-behind mowers is imported from China while the Stealth Z is somewhere between 50-50 and 60-40 U.S. content. The hydrostatic transmission of the Stealth Z is manufactured in Sullivan, Ill.
In addition to assembly, Sutech will also warehouse both parts and completed product in Galesburg and we will operate both our sales and service from here.”
For Yu this is a whole new adventure. Still a very young man he has a bachelors degree in computer science and an MBA from China’s prestigious NanJing University. George also holds the Chinese equivalent of a CPA and began his professional career working for China’s version of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. When he first joined CPCG he handled large investment transactions, including the one that led to the the acquisition of Sutech. Yu is currently in the U.S. on a temporary visa and is working with Liz Voyles of New World Immigration Services to get a permanent work visa and permission to bring his wife and child to the U.S. In the meantime he is looking for a good house in Galesburg. “I think that this is a good beginning, a good start for us in Galesburg,” explained Yu. “Running this company is a very big challenge to me and with the help of Vern and Terry I really think we can be successful in Galesburg.”