It was more than the mountains that brought my business and my family to Colorado Springs.
I’m a Cleveland native. I attended college and grad school in Ohio. I launched my first company, Empirical Testing Corp., with a single test frame in my friend’s machine shop located in the heart of Cleveland 20 years ago. My Ohio roots run deep.
But our growth was stunted by the local business climate. In Ohio, we paid taxes to the government in the town we worked in as well as in the town we lived in. The state of Ohio did not recognize federal tax incentive programs we would’ve been eligible for in other states, so we had to pay higher state taxes. On top of higher taxes, we had increased bookkeeping costs because we had to have our taxes done two different ways. As a new business with what was then a staff of two, we spent a good portion of what little take-home pay we had on taxes.
My husband, Chris, and I decided to look for more fertile ground.
We approached our search for a better business environment like the engineers we are. We eliminated all the places we didn’t want to live and narrowed our scope. From a business perspective, we needed a solid and consistent power supply. Cleveland was known for having rolling brown-outs, which is costly and time-consuming when your business runs mechanical tests 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because we have clients all over the world, we needed easy airport access and a reliable way to ship parts internationally.
Our search led us to Colorado Springs, and we moved in 2004. Since we transplanted, we’ve blossomed over the past 14 years. From a personal perspective, the Lissy family doubled in size to four (now including two native Coloradans). On the professional front, we went from a single business employing just my husband, myself, and two recently graduated co-op students-turned-fulltime-employees to a group of three companies with more than 30 employees supporting medical device development on a global scale.
The Colorado business climate was exactly the fertile soil we needed to expand and thrive. Colorado Springs was smaller and actively working to attract new businesses, particularly those in the medical industry and owned by women. The Economic Development Corporation was very helpful in locating the best spot in town for our business and finding answers to how we could best and most easily move 13 test frames across the country without stalling our operations.
At that point, ETC had a business plan to double in size in five years. After moving to Colorado Springs, it doubled in just over two years. With that growth, we needed more internal manufacturing capabilities to meet the needs of the test lab. ETC purchased some equipment and began manufacturing test blocks and fixtures. Word got out that we had a local manufacturing facility that produced high-quality parts for reasonable costs with quick turnarounds. So we formed Empirical Machine LLC in 2007.
Since then, EM has grown from two machinists and a couple of computer numeric control machines to 10 employees and multiple forms of manufacturing equipment, including a Swiss lathe, five-axis, four-axis and traditional CNCs. Empirical Machine has also attained ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 certifications that prove out our high-quality manufacturing capabilities. And our “little machine shop” has expanded its client base well beyond the medical device industry that sparked its inception. It now serves clients from aerospace, defense, manufacturing, sports and more. Beyond prototyping, Empirical Machine now offers small batch runs of implants and instruments as well as large-scale manufacturing.
Five years after launching EM, the demand for our medical device expertise had grown to the point that we launched Empirical Consulting to guide medical device innovators through the long and evolving process of receiving Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory clearances. It supports regulatory functions, quality systems and validation support. The EC team has more than 50 years of combined experience to navigate the regulatory and quality landscape.
This summer, to celebrate Empirical Testing Corp’s 20th anniversary, clients are flying in from around the world to enjoy our beautiful city and attend continuing education classes.
We appreciate all the local business community has done to support our development, and we look forward to many more years of growth and expansion here at the base of Pikes Peak.
Dawn Lissy is a biomedical engineer, entrepreneur and innovator. She is a columnist for Medical Product Outsourcing and Orthopedic Design Technology magazines and holds an inventor patent for the Stackable Cage System for corpectomy and vertebrectomy. Her M.S. in biomedical engineering is from The University of Akron, Ohio. She can be reached at 719-457-1144.