It takes many people, all over the country and all of them highly skilled, to make a fighter jet. Every piece must be perfect. There is no room for error when the safety of our military and the people they protect is at stake, and the companies that help build these jets are held to the highest standards.
Savage Precision Fabrication, Inc., based in Wylie, Texas, knows a thing or two about high standards. The company currently manufactures parts for some of the most famous fighter jets in the country. Airplane and military aficionados are sure to recognize the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lighting II, and the giant C-130 Hercules, a military transport aircraft. What they might not know is that very important parts for all of these aircraft are manufactured right here in Wylie.
“The Wylie EDC is always on call if we have a need.”
Jo Ann Gardner, CEO & President
Today, Savage Precision Fabrication is run by CEO and President Jo Ann Gardner (with a little help from her dog and office mascot, Hope). But the company started back in 1973 when her husband, W.T. Gardner, took on a little side project for Texas Instruments.
W.T. Gardner started working at Texas Instruments in 1960. He quickly refined his precision machining skills and was soon promoted to a supervisor in the machine shops, where he worked for 15 years. He knew his way around a machine, and in the early 70s, he purchased a mill, saw, and lathe, and set up a small shop in his garage. Around that time, an engineer at Texas Instruments approached W.T. with the prototype of a small part that they needed manufactured. This was the perfect side project for W.T., who was able to make the part in his shop at home. W.T.’s entrepreneurial spirit and instincts were strong, and within two years of building things on the side, he left Texas Instruments to run his own shop full-time.
When it became apparent that W.T.’s business was taking off, his wife, Jo Ann, quit her job to help him run the business full-time. The work W.T. was doing was quickly becoming a family affair.
Today, Savage Precision Fabrication is a precision machine shop that does sheet metal fabrication and mechanical assembly, along with being an approved government paint shop, specializing in the aerospace industries. They are compliant with ISO Certification and meet ITAR requirements, and currently have 45 employees.
W.T. and Jo Ann’s little side business, which had started in the Gardner’s garage in Mesquite, was growing quickly. In 1975 they had outgrown their garage and moved to a 1,200 square foot building in Garland where they officially became Savage Precision Fabrication, Inc. (the name is a nod to both the street they lived on at the time, Savage Dr., and also to W.T.’s heritage as a Native American Indian of Choctaw descent).
It wasn’t long before they were bursting at the seams at their space in Garland. The business was expanding, and they needed local support to help it grow. Someone recommended they call the Wylie Economic Development Corporation to see if they could assist. After talking to the EDC, they moved their business to Wylie, initially starting with a 40,000 square foot space on Ballard Avenue which now houses the First Baptist Events Center. Before long, they needed even more space and made the move to their current home, an 80,000 square foot building on Martinez Lane, dedicated to creating parts for the aerospace industry.
When asked what she likes best about doing business in Wylie, Jo Ann says the location is key. Wylie is central to their customers and the vendors that are required for materials and processing their products.
She also cites the importance of being able to work with local businesses, like Inwood Bank, which understands the needs and requirements of her company and works closely with her. And speaking to her relationship with the Wylie Economic Development Corporation, she says, “The Wylie EDC is always on call if we have a need.”
Running a Business During a Pandemic
In March of 2020, the entire world experienced an unprecedented global pandemic. For many of us, it was the first time we’d ever heard the terms “essential business” or “essential workers.” While many businesses had to shut down, reduce hours, or pivot entirely to adapt to the new reality that came with Covid, Savage stayed open. Because of their defense contracts, Jo Ann says, “Savage is an essential business. There was no down time.”
While there have been some supply issues with getting materials and supplies needed to make some parts, the business hasn’t stopped, or even slowed. Employees have kept their schedules and worked their full hours throughout the entire pandemic.
Savage Precision Fabrication offers very specialized products and fills very specific manufacturing needs for the aerospace and defense industries. Everything must be “just so,” (with certifications to prove it, and no room for errors), and a tour through their facility proves their attention to detail is top notch.
Made in the USA
Employees are highly technical and work with very specific types of machinery. (Walking through the factory, I kept thinking, who knew there was a machine for that?!) All the metal and assorted parts that are used in the manufacturing process must be certified “made in the USA” before they can be used on the government contracts, creating another level of certifications and quality control. The entire process is carefully monitored and regulated, from sourcing supplies to the actual creation of the part, to the painting process, through final quality control checks.
The documentation that goes along with this level of manufacturing is staggering. There is an entire room of file cabinets, color-coded and sorted by contract (with two employees to manage it all) that is dedicated solely to the meticulously detailed paperwork that comes with the job.
Looking to the Future
Jo Ann expects the future of Savage to stay bright. They currently have contracts with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon (to name just a couple) and continue to make parts for the F-16, the F-22, the F-35 and the C-130 aircraft.
When asked what she loves most about her job, Jo Ann says, “It’s knowing that in a small way we are helping keep America safe by supporting the aerospace industry.” With their high standards, skilled employees, and decades of experience in the industry, Wylie-based company Savage Precision Fabrication, Inc., is doing just that.
“It’s knowing that in a small way we are helping keep America safe by supporting the aerospace industry.”