LeNoir Zaiser, now in his late 70s, has helped mold the manufacturing landscape Collier County for nearly 40 years. Zaiser arrived in Naples in 1975 with the desire to open a local division of his Indianapolisbased company, Engineering Research.
Zaiser met with legendary Naples banker Mamie Tooke, who loaned him $750,000 to start the business. With Tooke’s help, Zaiser opened the defensecontracting company on Mercantile Avenue, where Haynes Corp. is now located.
“He was one of the first manufacturers in Naples, if not the first,” says son Len Zaiser IV, 46. LeNoir Zaiser, whose son calls him “a true American entrepreneur,” went on to build and sell five more manufacturing companies— Defense Research, Southern Research, Inovo, Inovo Technology and Structure Medical— before co-founding Azimuth Technology with Zaiser IV in 2012.
Azimuth, whose name comes from a compass bearing used in the Navy, makes lightdefense weapons for law enforcement and military personnel around the globe. Since its inception, the company’s revenue growth has been in the double digits, though Zaiser IV declines to cite specific numbers. It employs 115 people and has garnered the attention of Gov. Rick Scott, who visited the headquarters twice in 11 months.
The manufacturing business is an important piece to Southwest Florida’s economy, Zaiser IV says, because it’s the only major industry that’s not cyclical. And it helps to keep jobs in the U.S.
“We should not be exporting manufacturing jobs to Mexico or China. We really need to educate our young people of the opportunities in this field and we need to look at the investment because it’s critical,” Zaiser IV adds.
To draw in fresh talent, the company works with local technical schools and colleges such as Florida Gulf Coast University. Throughout the year, elementary- to high schoollevel students visit the 24,000-square-foot factory, which is lined with 80 computer-automated machines, to witness how the industry works these days.
“These aren’t dirty factories that are smoky, hot and sweaty. These are clean, technologically advanced factories that are air-conditioned and bright,” Zaiser IV says.
Azimuth may create opportunity, but jobs are not open just anybody. Zaiser IV, who handles the hiring process, says skills are secondary to personality. To work for the company, one must possess a great attitude and willingness to learn and work hard.
Ninety percent of the current employees did not have relevant experience when joining the company, Zaiser IV says, but each received proper training for meeting the above criteria. Azimuth also frequently hires military veterans. (Annual wages range from $30,000 to six figures.)
“You can teach skills to anybody,” Zaiser IV says. “You can’t teach drive and personality and wanting to be a part of something. That’s an individual thing that makes or breaks the company.”
That’s not a new philosophy for the fatherand- son duo. The management teams for many of the Zaiser’s previous Naples-based manufacturing companies are still intact, Zaiser IV says.
“There are thousands of people that have learned, grown and worked for my dad over the years, and each one of those people he has touched with knowledge,” Zaiser IV says. “The impact he’s made not only in Southwest Florida, but around the country, has been incredible.”
Azimuth may very well be Zaiser’s last venture. It’s grown rapidly in the four short years it’s been open, and will expand soon with an additional 24,000-square-foot spillover space that is currently being planned out. But, Zaiser IV says, it’s difficult to know for sure what his father, who is still very much active on the factory floor, has up his sleeve for the future.
“I imagine my dad’s wheels always spinning,” Zaiser IV says. “He loves building companies.”