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Company goes from shop to shots
Turner Medical vice president reflects on transition from automotive to medical parts
By Lucy Berry
The Decatur Daily

Brennen Smith/Decatur Daily
Tony McCrary works in the assembly department at Turner Medical Precision Machining in Athens.

ATHENS — Turner Medical Vice President Charles Tucker said transitioning from an automotive to medical parts manufacturing company forced his business to "grow up and face the fact that it's a hard world to live and work in."

Turner, which discovered a niche for producing medical parts for spinal and orthopedic surgeries after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, received the Alabama Small Manufacturer of the Year award in 2010 after operating for three decades as an automotive business in Athens.

"It's just made us be more professional," Tucker said as he reflected on Turner Medical's success. "We've got to deal what we've been dealt. The rules change every day, and we have to stay on top of our game to keep up."

John Turner opened the tool-and-die company more than 30 years ago in his backyard in Athens and later expanded the business to Turner Machine.

The company began manufacturing medical parts shortly after 9/11, but retained its automotive customers.

The need for medical parts increased so quickly that President Bill Turner doubled his staff and purchased additional equipment to meet demand.

In 2007, the company closed its automotive line and changed its name from Turner Machine to Turner Medical. Turner said the transition was "like going from daylight to dark."

"The downturn started after 9/11, and within a year and a half, that's when we really had a reduction in force," he said. "Then we made our decision to go ahead and pursue medical 100 percent. ...It's been the best thing we've ever done."

U.S. Census data show more than 78,000 residents in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties were ages 50 and older in 2010. Nationally, the population of seniors older than 65, which was 35.1 million in 2000, is expected to double by 2030, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Turner said his medical parts business has flourished as more aging residents take control of their health.

"In their golden years, they want to have the best way of life they've been accustomed to," he said. "With the medical implants, instruments and procedures that doctors are doing now, people are having a lot better quality of life."

In 2011, the company underwent a $1 million expansion by adding 30,000 square feet of space and 20 new employees. Turner said the company plans to hire 25 more workers in the next six months.

Turner Medical now employs 150 workers and operates in 75,000 square feet of space at its 130 Durham Drive facility. Although the Athens company faced some uncertainly during the 2012 general election and after the introduction of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Turner said the company had picked up several new customers since January.

The company uses American-made products, including titanium and steel, and is registered with the Food and Drug Administration.

Turner's customers visit and audit the plant, and he must maintain records on the parts for 30 years.

The company sells to major medical companies across the U.S. and has begun selling products to Japan and China after receiving a foreign manufacturing certificate last year, Turner said.

In the next 10 years, Turner said, he hopes to double his workforce, while also maintaining the company's small business feel because "bigger is not always better."

"As long as you do what you say you're going to do, hit the delivery date, make sure the quality is where it needs to be, then the growth will be whatever you want to make out of it," he said. "You want to be able to control your growth instead of the growth controlling you."

Lucy Berry can be reached at 256-340-2442 or lucy.berry@decaturdaily.com.

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