Contract Signed by Sonju Industrial to Supply Department of Defense

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell manufacturing firm Sonju Industrial Inc. has signed onto a three-year deal with Raytheon Company, one of the top defense contractors and industrial corporations in the nation, to produce missile components for the U.S. Department of Defense.

General Manager Jason Sonju and his brother, Jon, expect the partnership will allow Sonju Industrial, with 40 current employees, to grow its sales and employees by 20 percent annually for the length of the initial contract, which is in effect through December of 2010.

“Any time we can get more manufacturing and higher paying jobs in the state, it’s good,” said Jon Sonju, who handles business development and is also a Kalispell state representative. “It puts Montana on the map.”

Sonju Industrial will now essentially become a subcontractor for the Missile Defense Agency (M.D.A), through the “Mentor-Protégé Program,” which allows larger military suppliers like Raytheon to shop out aspects of complex government contracts to smaller businesses, like Sonju Industrial. While the program may sound out of place amid the cutthroat world of competition for government defense contracts by industrial firms, the mentor-protégé arrangement allows the Pentagon to diversify its supply chain – thus increasing the chain’s stability.

Jason Sheahan, manager of the mentor-protégé program for Raytheon’s missile systems, described the purpose of the partnership as a way “to take some of the expertise that some of the big parts contractors have and help out some of these companies that do not have all the background and the infrastructure that these larger companies have and help them put it in place.”

The Department of Defense will be one among many of the larger clients Sonju has notched in recent years. From its facility on Kalispell’s south side, Sonju Industrial machines parts for Boeing aircraft, from the 777 passenger planes to the F-22 fighter jet, and even for some Rolls Royce sedans.

With Raytheon, Sonju Industrial will be producing parts for the Standard Missile-3, Joint Standoff Weapon and a launch system. The SM-3 is part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, and can provide protection from short to intermediate range ballistic missiles. In February, the Navy used an SM-3 missile to obliterate a satellite falling to earth when it was 153 miles over the Pacific Ocean.

Last year, Sonju and Raytheon submitted their application to the M.D.A. to join together, and in March the federal funds came through. Since then, Raytheon technicians and executives have been examining Sonju Industrial’s facility to figure out what they’re doing right, and where they can improve as the Kalispell company expands, to work out the deal’s contractual requirements.

“From last year at this time to this year (Raytheon) really dissected our company and looked for strengths and weaknesses,” Jason Sonju said. “They write that into the contract of what they need to improve.”

A number of Raytheon’s consultants have been visiting the Sonju facility, including human resources executives, information technology specialists, industrial engineers and experts on LEAN manufacturing, a Japanese philosophy that improves the efficiency of industrial facilities.

The benefits of the deal don’t just go to the companies’ bottom lines, Jon Sonju said, but to the machinists and technicians who will broaden and enhance their skills.

“Our employees are getting trained by one of the most elite companies in the aerospace and defense market,” Jon Sonju added.

While Jon Sonju credits Montana’s federal delegation with facilitating the partnership, the deal began, as so many of them do, at a social networking event. At a Veterans’ administrative conference a few years ago, Dick Sonju, the president of Sonju Industrial and Jon and Jason’s father, hit it off with a fellow veteran who just happened to be Sheahan’s predecessor at Raytheon, overseeing the mentor-protégé program. The two men kept up contact and, eventually, decided their companies should partner.

“It’s kind of like a dance,” Sheahan said. “After two years of dancing, we became engaged and now we’re married.”