PALESTINE, Ill. —
Soaring high above the ground has always been a desire for David Shaw.
As a young kid growing up in rural eastern Illinois, Shaw’s family was filled with fliers. Looking down from cloud level with the roar of an aircraft engine in his ears seemed as normal as the sun shining on the family farm.
At age 14, Shaw flew his first solo in a glider. On his 16th birthday, he got his private pilot’s license.
Around the time Shaw was pocketing his new pilot’s license, half a world away, the young Australian girl who would become his wife was launching her first small business, at age 11, selling gingerbread houses she made herself.
Fewer than two dozen of the houses sold the first year, recalled Penny Shaw. But by the time she left her home to move to America many years later, sales had grown to 1,000 each Christmas season.
Not surprisingly, in college, David studied aeronautical engineering. Penny studied business. Today, the couple, married more than 13 years, have combined their knowledge and considerable talents to create a successful aerospace company, Flying S Inc., a Wabash Valley business that has recently doubled its workforce and is looking to the future with optimism.
Aerospace and farming
A year ago, Flying S Inc., which is about six miles south of Palestine, Ill., had seven employees and was offering aerospace design and engineering work from a 2,400-square foot shop in a building that doubled as the Shaw’s home. At the time, the company was designing sophisticated parts for the James Webb Space Telescope for the U.S. space agency, NASA.
Today, 11 years after David Shaw launched Flying S Inc. as a one-man aeronautical consulting firm, the company is preparing to celebrate the official grand opening of a new 16,000 square-foot manufacturing and design facility with a workforce of 20.
“This is really a big deal for us,” Penny Shaw said of the new facility and the added employees. “It’s really rewarding to have good jobs for people.”
Flying S Inc. designs and makes aerospace parts, such as wings for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). And it still does work for NASA.
In addition to flying, David Shaw also enjoys creating things. Owning a company that combines his two passions is a perfect fit.
“I’m an engineer,” Shaw said standing in one of the large, well-lit rooms of the Flying S. “I like to build things. Having a whole team that’s able to build things, that’s what I like.”
Designing and creating aerospace components and critical parts for a NASA telescope would seem like plenty for anyone. But at the Flying S, the Shaws are also in the business of raising and selling top-quality, grass-fed beef.
“In the end, both businesses are very similar,” Penny Shaw said of the aerospace and beef branches of Flying S. “We like to stress that it’s about quality. We don’t cut corners.”
The Shaw’s got into the grass-fed beef business after David’s father, John, — also a pilot — received doctor’s orders to cut back on beef and fat in his diet. Eventually, John decided that grass-fed beef was the way to go. Now people come from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago to purchase the Flying S beef.
“We’re sold out for the rest of the year,” Penny said of the beef supply. “I can’t keep up with demand.”
An eye for detail
At a time of continued high unemployment, business cutbacks and a slow economy nationally, Flying S stands out as much for its growth as it does for the unusual products and services it sells.
For many years, the Shaws had a single employee. More recently, they grew to have seven. Since moving into the new facility last month, they now have 20. In short, the Flying S has more than doubled its workforce in the past few weeks.
“The way that we’ve approached it, you start small and grow from there,” Penny Shaw said.
Because so much of what they do is highly specialized, the Flying S does much of its own training in-house. In addition to needing engineers and people trained to run certain high-tech machines, the Shaws sometimes also hire people who show a strong work ethic, honesty and are detail-oriented. That’s very important when you’re making delicate aerospace components, the Shaws noted.
“We’ve hired a painter, an art teacher and a pilot,” Penny notes. “Do you notice what they all have in common? They have a keen attention to detail.”
Attracting employees to come to work in rural Crawford County is no problem, Penny said. Many of their employees are natives of the area who received training on CNC (computerized numerical control) machines at Vincennes University. Others are engineers who lived in bigger cities for a while and welcomed a chance to return to a small community. And some are originally from the area and just wanted to come home.
“We feel like we’ve got a really good team of people,” said Penny.
No limits to growth
The Flying S will be celebrating the grand opening of the new facility on April 20. The company plans to invite all of those who have helped the business get off the ground, including the Crawford County Development Association, which provided a low-interest loan to the Flying S. Penny’s parents are coming to the event all of the way from Australia, she noted.
All this begs the question: What’s next for David and Penny Shaw?
In short, they expect better and bigger things in the future. David doesn’t rule out doing work on ground-based vehicles, such as race cars. And he hopes to eventually move from offering mostly highly specialized prototype products to manufacturing his own brand of component aerospace parts.
“Our goal is to one day have our own product,” Penny said.
The Shaws and their carefully selected team at the Flying S are probably a good bet for a bright future. Highly energetic and young (both are in their 30s), the Shaws combine outstanding experience and training with entrepreneurship, creativity and a conservative – one-step-at-a-time approach to growth. Penny and David are both the eldest children in their families, meaning they both learned responsibility at a young age, Penny said.
Combined with an outstanding team of employees who are dedicated to their work, the Flying S should continue to soar into the future.
“I think that we will definitely be growing,” Penny Shaw said standing inside the brand new building. “I think there’s a lot of potential for growth.”
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PALESTINE, Ill. —
Soaring high above the ground has always been a desire for David Shaw.
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