A Family’s Story
The History of Prospect Machine Products
On October 30, 2014, Naugatuck Valley Community College presented a symposium on the history of manufacturing in the Greater Waterbury Area with a special focus on family-owned manufacturing businesses. The program included a visual history of the area rendered through art works provided by The Mattatuck Museum of Waterbury
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Below are remarks delivered by Richard A. Laurenzi, the president of Prospect Machine Products.
In 2013, at the age of 95, Michael penned his autobiography for his children. He was born August 10, 1917, one of seven children. He grew up in Town Plot, attended the Tinker School, and graduated from Crosby High in 1935. While working the ice cream counter at a restaurant in downtown Waterbury, one of the patrons, a local judge, was very impressed by his work ethic, and recommended him for the position of a waiter at Diorio’s Restaurant. He worked 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, six days a week and all the holidays. His pay was $10.00 per week. By this time Michael had married Connie, and Claire and Mary had arrived.
From the very first time I met Michael 30 years ago I was impressed by the scope of his knowledge of the physical sciences. He possessed the precision of an engineer, the vision of an architect, the multiple skills of a building contractor, as well as a keen understanding of economics. So it should come as no surprise that when the long hours of waiting tables kept him away from his family, he chose to accept a four year tool and die apprenticeship position with the Waterbury Farrel Corporation at a pay scale of $.33 an hour. World War II had just begun and the material support of our troops meant 60 hours of work each week. Upon completion of his apprenticeship, Michael held jobs at the Bristol Babcock Company then Timex, then Risdon.
In the early 1940s, Mike and Connie purchased a lot from Connie’s sister on Rek Lane in Prospect. Part of the lot was occupied by a sturdy abandoned chicken coop. More about the chicken coop later. Mike, with the help of other family members, especially his brother Rocco, built his first home on this lot. A third child, Michael Jr. had arrived.
In early 1950, Timex downsized its manufacturing capabilities, and surplus machinery went up for auction. Mike wanted to purchase some tool room equipment so that he could launch his own small tool making business, but when he arrived all that was left were three old belt driven Brown and Sharpe screw machines. He knew very little about running production on screw machines, but he and Connie had a persistent dream of owning their own business. So they decided to withdraw $355.00 from a $450.00 savings account that Connie had established and purchased the three machines. Mike borrowed a neighbors dump truck and he and his brother Rocco picked up the equipment. They raised the roof of the chicken coop, installed the equipment, and made the first sale, and Prospect Machine Products was born. Over time, the 20,000 square foot factory we occupy today arose in stages as they could afford to build it.
Like any start up, there were ups and downs. Gradually, the business found steady customers, first in Connecticut then in metropolitan New York. In these early years, Mike and Connie had their fourth and final child, Evelyn. Her father still refers to her as “the caboose”.
In between raising a family and running a business, Mike was elected Mayor of Prospect in 1959. He led the drive to build the current town hall, and he and Connie were instrumental in building a new St. Anthony’s Church, situated today directly across from the town hall.
As the years went by, Mike Jr. joined the business and eventually headed up the screw machine department for over 20 years. Mike Sr. expanded the equipment line up to include transfer presses for deep draw components. In the late 1990s we chose to sell our screw machine and CNC turning department, and concentrate on our core skill of deep draw. Today, we have 26 transfer presses and full tool room capabilities.
In 1975 Mary joined the firm as office manager, purchasing agent, and production scheduler. In 1977 Mary became the general manager.
In 1977 disaster struck Prospect Machine Products when an electrical fire in a small storage room spread throughout much of the factory. It became the third largest fire in the history of the Town of Prospect. Over one hundred firefighters from Prospect and neighboring towns battled the blaze, but most of the production area was burned to the ground.
Other smaller manufacturers assisted Mike by making parts so that supply would remain uninterrupted to our customers. Within three months, production was up and running at Prospect Machine Products. All the family pitched in, including the young grandchildren. One grandchild is here with us today, David Boiano Prospect Machine Products’ Manufacturing Engineer.
In 1982, Mary became the President. Two major issues were present on the horizon and Mary saw them clearly. If we were to remain competitive, we had to match our customers’ tougher quality standards and software information systems. We had to make better parts with a goal of zero defects to the customer, and we had to match our customers’ software informational systems so that we could adjust our supply quickly, satisfy their needs, and control our costs. This would require us not just to change, but transform, clearly we would need outside resources, particularly education, to assist us.
The decade of the 1980s for manufacturers was marked by a revolution in quality standards and quality systems. The revolution occurred because of the decline in quality of many American products, particularly automobiles, throughout the 1970s. I vividly remember my father’s purchase of a 1979 Chevrolet Impala and its defects and rapid deterioration before he had 30,000 miles on the odometer. Adding to the woes of what was then the big three of Detroit was the steady loss of market share to Japanese automakers because of better quality. This crisis led to the standardization of quality standards throughout the world and Mary championed these standards through our shop, first through statistical process control, then followed by ISO certification.
In parallel, she introduced both software and hardware applications to the shop to drive the speed of our communications. These achievements secured the future competitiveness of Prospect Machine Products. The quality standards and communication standards of our small shop are equal to any company of any size around the world.
Through Mary’s steady hand, we passed through our entrepreneurial phase into our established phase. Mary’s dedication to educational training for manufacturers was continuous and meaningful for both our employees and the Waterbury Community. In 1981, she led the drive to establish the screw machine curriculum at Kaynor Tech. She has served on the advisory boards of Kaynor Tech. and Naugatuck Valley. She was also one of the founders of the Waterbury Adult Education Technical Center. She was the first woman to hold the President’s chair in the Smaller Manufacturers’ Association. She served on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and besides being one of several loving sisters-in-law, she has been my mentor for close to thirty years now.
There is no harder work or greater fear or glorious success than starting your own business. Equally, there is no harder work or greater fear or glorious success than keeping Mike and Connie’s dream alive. Market principals and market conditions have always come first for us. Mike and Connie established this rule for us as well as our code of conduct with much love and discipline. As the business succeeds, the family members will succeed.
Mike and Connie cast a wide net of generosity to their immediate family, extended family, and their community. This year, their two great granddaughters entered colleges as freshmen in part funded by trust funds established by Mike and Connie.
In closing I want to thank President Daisy Cocco DeFilippis and Joseph Defeo, Program Director for the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center as well as all the supportive teachers and staff members for honoring our family today. Smaller manufacturers like us have sought out NVCC for a long time when we need help, and Kaynor Tech. has been our faithful partner in developing future apprentices for over 50 years now.
In close to 30 years in the business, I have never seen a greater synergy between manufacturers, educators, and students than what we have today.