Tom Hodge came about his passion for tooling and machining from his father, Don Hodge, who worked for General Motors as a tool-maker for 37 years. After high school, Tom enrolled in the Project STEP II program at Sinclair Community College where he completed the Computer Aided Manufacturing course and earned his certificate in Tooling and Manufacturing. He then applied his adopted trade locally where he learned plastic and aluminum die-cast mold manufacturing, and specialized in welding and machining fixture design and manufacturing.
In 1997, Tom joined the General Motors assembly plant in Moraine and was accepted into the four year tool-making apprentice program. Upon completing his apprenticeship, he became a certified Journeyman Toolmaker.
For the next eight years, he honed his skills in computer numerical controlled (CNC) programming, tool-path efficiency analysis, CNC setup and operation, and other aspects of the tooling and machining field. He developed a particular interest and skill in engraving and other creative work. He established a solid reputation as a highly proficient toolmaker and developed numerous contacts in the field.
In June 2008, GM announced that the Moraine plant would be closing by year-end. Tom had the option of applying for a transfer within GM or taking a buyout. "I didn’t trust the fact that they would have any jobs for me. I feel that now I’m in a position to rely on myself," Tom says. So he decided to take the buyout and try to start his own machining business.
Immediately after the Moraine plant shutdown, Tom began setting up his business. He leased a 1,500 square foot workshop in Germantown, which he can expand as his business grows. He purchased several used machines, the key one being a Milacron CNC Vertical Milling Machine, using part of his buyout funds. From January through April, Tom worked long hours seven days a week setting up his shop and becoming familiar with his machines.
Despite the fact that many of his contacts were anxious to give him machining jobs, Tom wanted to be absolutely sure that he was ready to provide excellent quality and service before accepting work. His father, Don, retired and living in Wilmington, Ohio, made the trek to Germantown several days a week to work with Tom in setting up the shop. Beginning in May, Tom began taking machining jobs, including several small jobs for parts for farm equipment and the startup is going well.
With Dick’s help, Tom developed a marketing kit that he is using as he calls on companies he has known over the years that use outside machining services. He is in the process of developing a web site as a key marketing tool. He has registered with FedBizOpps, which enables him to bid on federal contracts.
Tom is a very excited entrepreneur, and is gaining confidence in his ability to successfully grow his business. He recently hired his first two employees. "My vision is to have 10 to 12 employees within five years," he says.
Realizing that he had excellent tooling and machining skills, but little in the way of business skills, Tom came to Dayton SCORE in October 2008 looking for help in learning all he could about starting and operating his business. He was teamed up with mentor Dick King, who had a very successful small manufacturing business in the area for 23 years.
Dick took Tom under his wing and spent immeasurable time with him. He had Tom take two Dayton SCORE workshops: Business Planning for the Small Company and Marketing for the Small Business. Dick taught him to think like a businessman. They worked on Tom’s organizing skills and on how to present himself in business situations.
Dick worked with Tom to develop a business plan; design graphics for a logo and letterhead; form a Limited Liability Company and create an appropriate name for the business, Absolute CNC Machining, LLC; and set up his recordkeeping on QuickBooks. "I couldn’t possibly pay Dick back for what he has done for me. He was always available to me,” Tom says. “We often talked late into the night and on weekends. And I have learned so much from him. I am very fortunate to have him as my mentor."