The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 41
Systems' Manley Butler
He moved his company
back to Roanoke from
what the client wants. "We're here to support them."
Some of the assemblies "take two or three days to
build and we might do 65, rather than the thousands
that would be made" in a high-volume shop. Obviously, the unit cost can be quite high.
SynCom takes considerable satisfaction in being
clean and environmentally friendly, recycling all of its
industrial waste (some of it gold and copper).
The co-owners are both married and each has
BUTLER PARACHUTE SYSTEMS GROUP
Manley Butler places the age of his business precisely
at "37 years and two wives" making him 27 when it
Butler began parachuting in 1973 "while chasing a
girl" to the New River Airport in Dublin, the region's
only drop zone. He joined the Navy in the early '70s,
and became a combat air crewman. He earned a BS
(1980) in aeronautical engineering from the University
of Texas through the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program.
While in Austin, he started Butler Parachute Systems as a part-time venture. While living in California,
he went full-time with the business in 1988, before
moving the company to Roanoke in 1995. Through
most of his years away from Roanoke, his father,
Caldwell Butler, served as a 6th District Congressman (and was a star in the Watergate hearings).
Butler operates in an old blue industrial building
in Northwest Roanoke, a building that began as a
bowling alley in 1964. He bought the building and
spent six months renovating it before moving in. It is
a huge, rambling 24,000 square-foot facility now, one
that accommodates cutting and sewing the parachutes,
as well as machine and wood workshops. Some of the
specialized equipment in the building was built by
Butler employees, most of whom have been trained
on the job.
Butler has 31 employees in Roanoke now and, he
says, sales have been rolling at a near record level recently. In fact, 2015 was a high-water mark and 2016
was solid. The business doesn't always run at those
levels, though. "It's a roller-coaster sometimes," Butler says.
His customers range from individuals who might
own a P-38 fighter plane from World War II ("rich
guys who fly $3 million planes and who have the
money to buy and fly an expensive toy"), to individuals "with $30,000 airplanes on the low end," to the
military in a range of countries. Their parachute needs
vary from those costing $240 (a 12-footer used to land
goods) to about $30,000. Butler does not sell sport
parachutes, concentrating on equipment for emergencies, private planes, unmanned vehicles and specialized
test flight airplanes.
Butler has no official sales team, but several employees have primary jobs and also do sales and technical
support. The training for very specialized positions
and equipment is one of the difficult challenges of the
business, says Butler. Butler Parachutes sell worldwide
and the company, one of the very few doing what it
does, is quite well known in places like the famous
Paris Air Show.
MECHANICAL DEVELOPMENT COMPANY INC.
In 1950, level-headed Paul Powell and "eccentric
genius" Roy Spain had that classic combination of
circumstances that lead entrepreneurs into business:
an idea and an open basement. They shared the idea
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 | 41