‘Made in America’ bet pays off for Reno firm

EE Technologies increased its production lines and modernized equipment when it closed its operations in Mexico.

EE Technologies increased its production lines and modernized equipment when it closed its operations in Mexico. Rob Sabo/NNG

The COVID-19 pandemic proved especially tough on Reno-based circuit board manufacturer EE Technologies, but a renewed focus on Made in America products has lifted the company to new heights.
EE Technologies, founded in 2000 by President Sonny Newman, earned more than half its annual revenue from its production facility in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico. That operation employed 250 and primarily made circuit boards for other Mexico-based auto production factories.
At the onset of the pandemic, the Congress of Sonora shuttered all production in the state. However, the unionized workforce at EE Technologies’ plant still received full pay during that time, Newman told NNBW last week in an interview at his South Meadows production facility.
“We went six weeks without manufacturing anything, but we had to pay all the employees for six weeks,” Newman said. “I got really frustrated and made the decision to shut down that plant.”

Sonny Newman 

The 50,000-square-foot facility had been in operation for 16 years. Severance packages for the Sonoran workforce cost EE Technologies more than $500,000, Newman noted.
He gave his Mexico-based customers notice of wind-down in April 2020 but continued to fulfill orders until April 1, 2021. A month later, the company had fully exited its operations south of the border.
“It was becoming really complicated to do business both in Mexico and here,” Newman said. “Down there, you really don’t have any negotiating power with wages, which were skyrocketing.
“At one point it made a lot of economic sense to have a facility there, but with the rising costs of freight, even before inflation in the last year and a half, it became more difficult to get there, and safety definitely was a huge issue.”
Newman decided to put the word out about EE Technologies’ American-made products and see if he could get any bites. The result has been an increase in business above pre-pandemic levels. The Reno facility primarily makes circuit boards and industrial controls for a wide range of industries that require products that are made in the U.S.
“We put it out there that we weren’t going to be the company for someone who was looking for the absolute lowest price and made in China or Mexico, but we were here if they wanted their products built in the United States and their (intellectual property) protected,” Newman said. “We had an overwhelming amount of interest and picked up several new customers.
“We have bookings out over a year, and our backlog has never been larger in our 22-year history,” he added.
The closure of the Sonoran operation also brought about the opportunity to upgrade and expand the production lines in South Meadows. Newman retired some older equipment in favor of more modern equipment from the Mexico facility and expanded Reno operations to seven production lines. A third of the production equipment from the Sonoran operation was sold in auction, while the other third was sold to the company that picked up EE Technologies’ work.
“We transformed our floor,” Newman said. “We spent about $2 million in the last two years in new equipment in addition to the stuff we moved in from Mexico. We have invested heavily into automation and robotics so we can do more with less people – but we still need more people.”
EE Technologies’ employs about 150, but Newman said the company has enough work on its books to employ up to 200. At full staff, however, the ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips likely would come into play.
“Our biggest challenges are labor and the chip shortage,” Newman said. “If we had plenty of labor, we would be out of work because of the chip shortages.”
As an electronics manufacturer, EE Technologies operates in a bit of a silo in Northern Nevada. In the past, Newman said, employees tended to stick around, but the skills developed at EE Technologies have made them valuable to many of the newer companies that have located in Northern Nevada in recent years.
“With some of these new companies, there is a high demand for people who know how to solder and have a little bit of technical experience,” he said.
In order to remain competitive, EE Technologies has reviewed its entire workforce over the past few years and made four separate wage adjustments in an effort to retain key employees, Newman said.
“It’s hard to find people who have experience working with circuit boards,” he said.
Newman, who is approaching his 60th birthday, says he enjoys being able to focus solely on running just one facility. He’s currently building a 40,000-square-foot flex industrial building next door to EE Technologies facility on Double R Boulevard. His company will take 10,000 square feet in the new building, while two spaces of 10,000 and 20,000 square feet are being marketed for lease by Ian Cochran at Logic Commercial Real Estate. Frank Lepori Construction is erecting the new building, which should be finished by December.
“We have so much work right now that we aren’t really pursuing new customers,” Newman said. “My focus has been on running this one facility. After being in this business for 22 years, I have no desire for a huge company. I just want to make it simple and having one facility instead of two has been a nice break for everyone.”


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