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Antrim's Reborn Manufacturer Coming Home

February 14, 2011
Antrim's Reborn Manufacturer Coming Home

That old story about the phoenix rising from the ashes? It’s happening in Central Lake.

Armor Express, the body armor company created by the former leaders and employees of the original Second Chance Body Armor Inc., is moving into the place where, you might say, it was born: the now-vacant Second Chance manufacturing facility in Central Lake.

“The purchase agreement is in place, and we close March 7,” says Ed Kiessel, Chief Operating Officer of Armor Express.

The move is a coup. Follow if you can: Armor Express is led by Matt Davis, president and CEO. His father, Richard Davis, founded Second Chance Body Armor in the early ’70s. (His inspiration? Being shot while delivering pizzas in Detroit and deciding that he, like all police of that era, needed something more effective than a gun for protection.)

The company, which was relocated to Central Lake shortly after its founding, grew to become the world leader in body armor, a multi-million dollar company with more than 500 employees around the globe and 250 in its Central Lake headquarters.

Then disaster struck: In 2003, a Pennsylvania police officer was wounded after a bullet penetrated his vest. The vest was constructed by Second Chance, using a ballistic fiber called Zylon that is lighter and more flexible than Kevlar, and manufactured by a Japanese company, Toyobo.

Though Toyobo initially stood by the strength and durability of its fiber, that fall Second Chance stopped selling Zylon vests and replaced them with Kevlar vests at hundreds of police departments nationwide. Still, lawsuits encroached on the Central Lake company.

In August of 2005, after conducting independent tests of Zylon, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) announced that Zylon was found to lose strength well before its manufacturer’s reported five-year lifespan and was banned from use in body armor; Toyobo later acknowledged that Zylon could lose up to 20 percent of its strength in two years.

The NIJ’s findings were too late; following a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Second Chance Body Armor had been sold through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy – one month earlier.

The purchaser? Armor Holdings (NYSE: AH). The Jacksonville, Fla.,-based manufacturer purchased the majority of Second Chance’s assets, including its brand name, and moved into the Central Lake facility.

A core group of Second Chance employees were let go or left the new company – among them Matt Davis and Kiessel. That year, next door to a Central Lake Laundromat, Davis opened a new company: Armor Express. Its tagline: “Body Armor Reborn.”

In 2007 BAE Systems, a U.K.-based global defense company, bought out Armor Holdings. In December 2009, BAE Systems consolidated the Second Chance company with another body armor company in Florida and pulled out of Central Lake, leaving the Second Chance facility vacant and more than 150 unemployed.

Armor Express, which boasts contracts with the U.S. Marines, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and police departments around the nation, will move its 100 employees – many of whom were a part of the original Second Chance company – will move into the old facility this April.

On Wednesday, Armor Express’ executives will go before the Central Lake Township Board to gain approval for a Community Development Block Grant, which will enable the company to hire 100 more people and invest $1 million in capital equipment over the next two years.

Bouyed by last year’s 41-percent surge in growth and the promise of repeat customers (vests purchased by Armor Express’ first customers are reaching the end of their five-year warranty now) Kiessel is optimistic that Armor Express’ future in Central Lake – and the former Second Chance plant – is bright.

“Central Lake was the body armor capital of the world. People felt like it got taken away from them,” he says. “Now, we’re coming back.”


Most Recent Comments

 
Dave Spinniken on February 27, 2011 8:34am

This is exciting news. Employment opps in our rural areas has been back sliding for years. This company is demonstrating loyalty to the American worker and small town communities. Native American soverign nations have struggled for centuries to help their communities sustain their families groups. I applaud your efforts.

Terry Addis on February 17, 2011 6:18pm

I am very proud to be a past employee of Second Chance and a current employee of Armor Express. I am very excited about the direction the company is going. Very pleased to receive the news that the "World Headquarters" will remain in Central Lake. It is a town full of integrity. The owners, board members, and the management teams are all humble leaders who sincerely know what it takes to have a successful business and very happy employees. Here's to many more years of growing success to also help the success of many local businesses.

Shannon Fender on February 16, 2011 2:09pm

Congratulations Armour Express!! As a past employee of Second Chance, it was always a great honor to work with such great people and for such a great company. Central Lake is blessed to have such an upstanding business back in town. I would like to wish you continued success.

Mary Finnegan on February 16, 2011 8:31am

Congratulations! The focus,diligence, and moral conscience of the Davis' family marches on. As an employee of 2nd Chance,I considered it an honor to work for Richard Davis.Our quality products met the criteria of the NIJ Standards. We rigidly assembled and inspected them.I was saddened to read of the deteriorating Zylon product. But my cheerfulness for their new success is far greater.

Lauren Draplin on February 15, 2011 6:23pm

BRAVO!! All the hard work has finally paid off and I am happy to hear of the new endeavor. Matt and Ed: I hope you enjoy as much, if not more, success than Richard and Karen Davis. With our economy turning around, I am sure that success is within reach!! (from an old employee)

Kim Willis on February 14, 2011 1:38pm

WAY TO GO!!! This is the best news!! You all deserve a HUGE hand for what you have accomplished these last few years!! Rising up to protect the officers of the world with a world class product, was and always will be, the standard from the Davis family. I am proud to have had the honor of working with all of you in the past. I wish you luck and continued success with your Armor company! Armor Express, Keep that train Rollin!!

Meg Young on February 14, 2011 11:14am

A phoenix rising, indeed! And echoing Angel's sentiments above, this will provide an economic boon to a wonderfully deserving community. Heartfelt congratulation to ALL!

Maryanne Jorgensen on February 14, 2011 10:31am

I am so pleased to read this good news for Armour Express and importantly the Central Lake community. A great boost for Northern Michigan!

Thom Boze on February 14, 2011 8:37am

Glad to see you back you were dealt a lousy hand and you recovered well I am sure the people of Central Lake are thrilled

Angel Elsenheimer on February 14, 2011 8:32am

I'm so proud of you Matt! I have great memories of everything your dad's company meant to C.L.! Thanks for working so hard to keep your own successful body armor company in Central Lake, where such jobs and commerce are so direly needed! :)

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