It was a fun time in his life, mending spokes and scrounging for parts at junkyards from New Mexico to Arkansas, all the while staying true to what just seemed to come naturally to him.
Today, as a family man with a wife and two children of his own, Washington is still the go-to guy in his hometown of Water Valley, albeit for a much broader base of customers who rely on his Valley Tool Inc. expertise to support industries and manufacturing as wide-ranging as aerospace, automotive, ATVs, medical, heavy equipment, firearms, heating and cooling and oil and gas.
“We build the parts they use to build their parts,” said Washington, whose 147-employee-driven machine shop was listed among American Machinist magazine’s 2009 ranking of Best Machine Shops in the country – the only such custom tooling, die, gauge and component parts manufacturer in the Southeast to be so honored. The tribute was particularly meaningful to Washington, coming off the bank failures and deep economic recession of 2008, when he defied the odds and did not lay off a single VTI employee.
In the little more than two decades since he left his steady job at a local grocery store and went to work in a machine shop across town in 1994, rising to the position of shop foreman after a few years and outright ownership of the company in 1997, Washington has done his part to take the “Made in Northeast Mississippi” brand national and even global.
All the while building his reputation for meeting or exceeding customer standards in his own back yard with work for companies such as Winchester firearms in Oxford, furniture manufacturers in the Golden Triangle and other Mississippi enterprises such as one Delta company that specializes in the building of the prop airplane engines that support the burgeoning agribusiness sector there.
“We also make the mold that a Texas medical facility uses to manufacture a heart catheter that can save the life of newborns,” Washington said.
Even in an international business climate in which much of the machining and tooling and parts making is offshored, Washington said there is good reason for any Mississippi and American company to have a solid, domestic machine shop in the production mix.
“Countries have different holidays, and there are planned shutdowns that can and do have an impact on manufacturing schedules,” he said. “You don’t need a machine shop every day, but when you need one, you need one.”