Illinois Family Achieves American Dream with Jet Edge Waterjet
Twelve years ago, Gary Lee was a purchasing manager for a 100-man
Lee was weighing career options when his longtime tooling salesman suggested that he look into precision waterjet technology. At that time, waterjet manufacturers were just beginning to introduce machines with tighter tolerances, and Lee recognized the technology's tremendous potential. He and his wife LaSondra Lee took their salesman's advice and headed to IMTS to check out a cutting-edge system manufactured by Jet Edge of St. Michael, Minn.
"I immediately fell in love with the Jet Edge when I saw all the things it was capable of doing," LaSondra recalled. "I knew this is what we had to do."
In 1996, the Lees put everything on the line to start up JDA Aqua Cutting, Inc., a custom job shop in the south
"We had four kids, a car payment, a house payment and a kid in college,"
After looking at all the major waterjet systems on the market, the Lees decided to buy the Jet Edge.
"Coming from a machining background, I felt Jet Edge had the best built machine,"
A True Family Business
The Lees wanted JDA to be a true family business. In fact, they named it in honor of their sons Joshua, Daniel and Andrew. Their daughter Rachel was born soon afterward and LaSondra is planning a new business venture to be named in her honor.
Joshua was instrumental in getting JDA off the ground. At the start of the business, he was a freshman engineering student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. During the early years, he attended school full time, worked 40 hours a week at JDA and played center for his college baseball team. Now 30 years old, he continues to help his father run the business. Daniel, 22, also has joined JDA, and is in charge of welding, CNC milling and part design.
Gary recalled the early lean years, when the family relied on their backyard garden to keep food on the table and he and LaSondra had to say "no" to many of their children's wants.
"We started out with one waterjet, one compressor and miscellaneous tools from my garage. Our first table was a 4X8 Jet Edge High Rail Gantry with a 50-horsepower intensifier pump. The first year we were in business, I made $13,000."
After the first year, word started to get out about JDA's excellent workmanship, and the Lees began to develop a solid customer base cutting everything from rosewood guitar frets to copper electrical parts.
"Every year we grew 25 to 30 percent. Then after four years, we expanded into another bay and bought a CNC mill,"
Over the years, JDA has become renowned for its work with exotic metals. In fact, a nuclear power company recently contracted it to cut a 3 ½-inch thick, 48-inch wide, 102-inch long, 4,400-pound piece of inconel valued at $132,000.
The Lees have had the opportunity to work on a number of high-profile projects. They cut the inlay flooring for the skyboxes at U.S. Cellular Field (formerly
The Lees also cut numerous parts for the
Like most job shops, JDA saw its business drop off, but the self-reliant Lees were not about to remain chained to the ups and downs of job shop work. Their solution: to develop a product of their own.
For about a year, the family struggled to figure out exactly what their product would be. Then one day, Joshua decided to make a chain guard for his sport bike. His friend liked it so much he asked him to make him one too. Finally, the Lees had their product. JDA Custom was born.
A Division of JDA Aqua Cutting, JDA Custom makes custom parts for all lines of sport bikes. The company sells most of its parts online at www.jdacustom.com. It also has 1,100 parts posted on eBay, and has distributors all over the world, including
To this day, Gary Lee has no regrets about his family's decision to start up its own business, and he especially has no regrets about his decision to buy a Jet Edge.
"I wouldn't take one of the other waterjet systems for free,"
JDA Aqua Cutting