Local leaders tour Moog Protokraft's new Johnson City facility

David Floyd • Updated Jan 29, 2020 at 7:36 PM

A local company that produces cutting edge technology for military aircraft gave regional leaders a peek Wednesday at its new Johnson City operations.

In December, Moog Protokraft, a designer and manufacturer of high-end electronics used in advanced military equipment like the F-22 fighter jet, the P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft and the B-52 bomber, moved to a new 25,000-square-foot facility at 192 Bob Fitz Road, a change that gave the business more room to grow.

On Wednesday, the company hosted a ribbon cutting and tours of its new facility for local government leaders, officials with the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and representatives from local universities, a group that Bob Sullivan, the business’s product line manager, said made up a large proportion of the attendees.

“That’s very intentional,” Sullivan said. “We need world-class technologists to work here if we want to grow our business. We want to make sure the universities are aware that we’re here and that the professors know we’re here and that we’re getting the first shot at the best and brightest.”

The company currently has about 50 employees, and is in the process of hiring new engineers and manufacturers. Sullivan said Moog Protokraft has reached a point where it’s hiring an engineer every week or two.

“We’re offering technical opportunities for trained engineers that they simply cannot find anywhere else in the world,” Sullivan said, “and as an engineer, if you’re not excited about the challenges we have at this organization, you shouldn’t be an engineer.”

Like the human body’s nervous system, the products produced by Moog Protokraft transport information between systems in an aircraft. The company specializes in micro-electronics and micro-photonics. The equipment transports a massive amount of data, Sullivan said.

“You could run a city on the amount of data that we’re moving,” he said.

Moog Protokraft, then called Protokraft, started in October 2003 in the Holston Business Development Center. It moved to the BAE Ammunition Base in 2009 and in 2012 was purchased by Moog Inc., a multi-billion dollar designer, manufacturer and integrator of precision control components and systems.

The company changed its name to Moog Protokraft and has now moved its operations to Johnson City. The company has the option to expand at its new site if it chooses.

According to state property information, Moog Protokraft sits on a roughly two-acre parcel owned by Larry and Kathy Mullins, who also operate Industrial Electronic Services, Inc. in Johnson City. The couple also owns a vacant five-acre parcel adjacent to Moog Protokraft that is available for the company if it needs to build up its operations. Larry Mullins said the available acreage could support a minimum of four additional buildings.

“Anything’s possible.” Sullivan said. “Obviously, I can’t commit to anything. We have the ability to grow into any size that we need to, which is really nice.”

Sullivan said IES also fabricates circuit boards for Moog Protokraft, which fits into the company’s strategy to rely on the local supply chain for materials as much as possible.

“That’s an ongoing effort we have, and the reason behind that is it’s incredibly valuable to see your supply chain,” he said. “Literally knock on the door, go in sit down. If there’s a problem, you can literally sit with them and solve the problem.”

He estimates that three-quarters of the material cost is locally sourced, but noted that some parts come from such highly specialized industries that it would be impossible to source from Tennessee.

Sullivan said local universities have done a good job of preparing students for technical fields, and he hopes to see universities in the state commit to enhanced focus and research in specialized technologies.

“When you do that, the companies follow,” he said. “It just happens. That’s the way the world works. That’s the role the universities can play at a higher level.”

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