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Editorial: Starrett success lies with being on cutting edge

  • Athol town sign. March 16, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Published: 5/16/2018 4:16:28 PM
Modified: 5/16/2018 4:16:37 PM

In the mid-20th century, in the heyday of American manufacturing, there were a couple of names that local tool users knew as synonymous with quality. Those tools were made by their friends and neighbors. Millers Falls hand tools enjoyed such a reputation but faded from the scene by the turn of the century after being sold to outside owners.

Not so with the Athol-based company founded by Maine native Laroy S. Starrett in 1880 on the back of his patented combination square, which still sets the standard for the precision measuring tool used by carpenters and woodworkers everywhere.

The L.S. Starrett Co. quickly forged a reputation for crafting high-quality measuring instruments. It has not only survived the decline of American manufacturing, but grown in recent decades, and today employs an estimated 600 in Athol and 2,000 worldwide in locations as far flung as Brazil, Scotland and China.

Today’s Starrett product line includes precision measuring tools like micrometers, calipers and rules and also levels, electronic gages, dial indicators, gage blocks and granite surface plates and custom engineered products. In this age of computers and electronics, the company has absorbed modern tech into optical measuring projectors, vision systems and multi-sensor measuring systems, many of which are custom engineered.

It boasts more than 5,000 variations of precision tools, gages, measuring instruments and saw blades for industrial, professional and consumer markets worldwide.

It should give North Quabbin residents great pride that they are at the heart and soul of this successful international company. While it may have locations in foreign lands and in Georgia, Ohio, California and the Carolinas, the world headquarters and main factory is right here in Athol.

And the company’s current leadership still bears the Starrett family name, which you have to believe has a lot to do with the continuing success after 130 years.

President and CEO Douglas A. Starrett said the company celebrated the 20th anniversary of its China manufacturing plant this past year, showing a company at the cutting edge of global growth and marketing.

After a sluggish 2017, Starrett told the Daily News, “This year we are tracking at a much better trend. We are starting to grow sales again both in North and South America, even in Europe … We expect that trend to continue, but the growth for us has been very much so in the technology products.”

That means things like new laser and software-based metrology products introduced this past year. Starrett said the company keeps up with new, evolving technologies, creating tools that require communication by either cable or wireless capabilities, for example.

Closer to home, the company has been working to feed the pipeline of skilled workers it needs for its modern manufacturing because as all the region’s tool makers have noted in recent years, one of the biggest challenges is that fewer young people are going into manufacturing trades.

To fill the technical skills gap for manufacturing companies, Starrett has implemented a precision measuring instrument curriculum and certification program for technical high schools and community colleges across the country.

The company even partnered with Athol High School to open a Starrett science lab in 2017 to train local students to use precision tools and set them on a path that might lead to satisfying machine tool jobs right here in town.

The company’s history notes that founder Laroy S. Starrett wanted “to invent something useful that people would want.” Considering that his combination square is still used and valued worldwide, it seems he succeeded at this goal — and his successors continue to follow the formula, which is the bedrock of success in the business world after all.

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