Back from the brink

Chris Anderson

BOHEMIA, NY—Nearly two years ago, mired in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, things didn't look so rosy at Clean Room Engineering Inc. After shedding it's previous management and it's sterile packaging division, the re-made company is leaner, financed through operating cash flow and ready to turn a small profit in 2001.

With the company firmly focused on its cleanroom design-build service and a manufacturing business that produces cleanroom workstations, shelving and furniture, President Christopher Young and the other 18 employees at Clean Room Engineering have their sites set clearly on the future.

“It's only because of the people we have working here and the dedication everyone has shown, that we've been able to get where we are today,” says Young. “We knew we had to work to earn back the confidence of many in the industry and we're grateful to those who have shown confidence in the new management.”

Clean Room Engineering recently completed a 1645-square-foot ISO Class 7 cleanroom (Class 10,000) cleanroom for Captive Plastics (Phillipsburg, NJ). (this photo and photo on page 59).
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Young and Director of Operations Gary Rheaume have relied on the personal touch to convince old customers and suppliers that it was not the same business under their direction. “There were a lot of companies hurt by what happened,” says Rheaume. “Some wouldn't do business with us, but some were willing to take a chance and understood that we weren't the managers that caused the original problems.”

Sales that once topped $19 million annually should clock in this year at between $3 million and $4 million. “But even though our sales are much lower, we have dramatically reduced our overhead,” Young says. To do this Young first had to decide which parts of the business had the best chance of being profitable. The design-build and manufacturing portions, even in the tough times were solid, so the company shed the sterile packaging division to focus on those two areas.

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Now, instead of having close to 150 employees, the company has 19 and likewise has moved into a more modest 12,500-square-foot manufacturing plant, compared with the 70,000-square foot facility it occupied two years ago.

In addition, the company has firmly committed to keeping its debt in check. “A couple of times in the past two years when we were scratching our heads about how we would make it work, we could have taken the easy way out and taken on some debt,” says Rheaume. “But in the end we always realized that the money we'd be paying back for a loan would be money better spent going back into the business.”

A gowning room that leads to an ISO Class 5 (Class 100) cleanroom that was recently completed by Clean Room Engineering for Altaire Pharmaceuticals (Aquebogue, NY).
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To bring design-build business in the company had to make some concessions to potential customers that were a little gun shy. “We've allowed companies to pay as we go, according to what we've finished,” says Rheaume. “That has been difficult at times, but we've been able to make it work.”

As it continues it's recovery and moves to profitability, Clean Room Engineering's revenue is split evenly between its design-build business and manufacturing business. “Right now our design-build business is primarily working for second-tier companies and not the Intels and others at the top,” says Young. “But I am confident as we do more and more work, that we will eventually be doing work for those top-tier companies.”

In the meantime, neither Young nor Rheaume intend to let their guard down. “We need to keep doing what we have done so far,” says Young. “We have to go out to our customers and sit down with them and gain their confidence that we will personally see to it the job gets done right.”


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