Spirit of Small Business Award 2012


Aurora has been selected as the 2012 Spirit of Small Business Award winner by The Pacific Coast Business Times and the Los Angeles District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Winners were judged based on each nominee’s ability to demonstrate a record of accomplishment and staying power, the ability to overcome adversity, community outreach/support and green business practices. For-profit companies with 100 or fewer employees are eligible to compete. Aurora was featured in The Pacific Coast Business Times’ Spirit of Small Business special report Aug. 26, 2012 and is posted below.

Small steps make for big names in aerospace

By Tom Bronzini Special to The Pacific Coast Business Times

A small family-owned business in Santa Paula is a trusted player among giants in the defense and aerospace industries, fashioning metal parts for U.S. fighter planes, airborne missiles and Boeing jetliners. Aurora Casting & Engineering, with 64 employees, is an approved subcontractor for firms such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Bell Helicopter and Boeing. The company founded by ex-Marine Frank Penrose in 1980 and still run by his family, is being honored as the Spirit of Small Business Award winner for West Ventura County. Penrose’s son John, president and general manager, said Aurora has grown from a shop in his father’s garage to a firm with revenues topping $8.1 million last year as a supplier to some of the biggest names in defense and aerospace. Aurora casts metal parts and components to exact specifications supplied by the client. On a Boeing 737 or 747 jetliner, John said, its products can vary from a structural piece of the wing and parts that go in the engines to an exit sign bracket or a toilet seat hinge. “So across the board, whatever the application might be where they require a relatively light, structurally sound, strong material, they’re going to look at investment casting as a potential to fill that need,” he said. Aurora has supplied parts for F-16 and F-18 jet fighters, military helicopters, Sidewinder missiles and laser-guided bombs. The company concentrates on the aerospace and defense markets, but also has a small presence in commercial products including motorcycle parts and the Razor scooter. The business remains a family operation following the departure of Frank Penrose, who died two years ago. John has been president for the last 10 years. His mother Patricia is chairman of the board; his son Andrew works there part time while studying business administration at California Lutheran University, and his eldest daughter, Alexandria, 16, is a part-time helper in the summer. John said his father began in the aerospace industry at a small company in the San Fernando Valley while he was going to community college. Frank Penrose learned the metal business at Ventura Casting in Thousand Oaks, and when that firm moved to Utah, Frank started his own company in Santa Paula in 1980. “He actually started in the back of our house in a garage, grinding gun parts,” John said. At the same time, he was doing drafting, quality inspection and design for the tooling used in investment casting. The investment casting process is thousands of years old, but the materials have become more sophisticated. It all starts with the creation of a wax mold. Copies of that mold are assembled on a so called tree, which receives several coats of a ceramic slurry that hardens into a shell. Steam and pressure are applied to melt the wax out of the shell, and the now-hollow shell is cured. Molten metal is poured into the shell, and after it cools, the shell is broken off and the metal parts are cut from the tree. Frank first moved Aurora into a unit of an industrial condominium in Santa Paula, then added more space as his business grew. He made a big investment to build Aurora’s current plant south of the 126 Freeway in 1998. McDonnell Douglas was one of the first big companies that noticed Aurora. “They wanted a job shop that could produce small castings in small lot sizes very quickly,” John said. “A lot of the suppliers that they have were much bigger and didn’t want to mess with these small quantities, so my dad jumped on that opportunity.” John said the company’s reputation grew as his father stressed quality, competitive prices and making sure the product was delivered on time. “That was a big point because a lot of the suppliers were not delivering on schedule,” he said. Aurora has weathered hard times with its mix of aerospace and defense work. When one sector is down, often the other is not, Penrose said. The company did not have to let anyone go during the latest recession. Aurora hires people from Santa Paula, Oxnard and Fillmore, many of whom know nothing about investment casting, and trains them, Penrose said. The philosophy has been to grow slowly and not borrow a lot of money. The building, property and equipment are all paid for, he said. “In some people’s eyes, you know they want to grow a lot faster; however, a lot of our competitors that started in the mid and late ’80s with us and went on a more fast- paced growth are no longer here. So we’ve been quite sustainable through thick and thin, and I don’t see any reason why we’d change that method of doing business.”