By Eric Peterson | Dec 05, 2022
Castle Dale, Utah
PCB engineering and manufacturing services
Brothers Dale and John Curtis co-founded Joshua Tree Technologies (JTT) with a decidedly different mission compared to most contract manufacturers.
Dale, then senior vice president of R&D at Fender Musical Instruments, needed to spend more time in his hometown of Castle Dale in eastern Utah.
"I wanted to be a top engineer at a top music company, and I accomplished that really young," says Dale. "It sounds like a great thing, but for a guy like me, it's really not. It was like, 'Well, what do I do next?'"
In 2008, Dale started Canyon Tree Technologies, now a sister company of JTT, with business partner Robin Vice.
Dale later went to work for a customer, Intermountain Electronics, to launch a new division, with Canyon Tree Electronics as a key partner. But Vice wanted to focus on engineering, not management, leading to the establishment of JTT. "We started Joshua Tree in 2013, but took all of the contractors and all of the other people from Canyon Tree and moved them into Joshua Tree," says Dale.
After leaving Intermountain Electronics in 2020, Dale went full-time with JTT. (Intermountain Electronics remains a JTT client.) "I work on a daily basis with Canyon Tree and my chief engineer -- [Vice] is really my right-hand guy," says Dale. "It's really all one company, he just calls himself Canyon Tree at this point."
The company's production arm, JTT Assembly has focused on manufacturing printed circuit boards (PCBs) for high-mix, low-volume electronics. "There's just not a good answer for people in those kinds of industries when it comes to contract manufacturing," says Dale. "In my humble opinion, the big CMs gouge clients who need smaller volumes. That may be too strong of a word, but at the very least, they're not cost-effective."
The business is now roughly evenly split between design and manufacturing, with a diverse client base in industries ranging from audio to energy to medical.
"We have an automated pick-and-place line here with AOI [automated optical inspection]," says Dale. "We're set up to be very efficient. By the time you get to 1,000 [units] of something, we may not be as efficient cost-wise as a larger CM, but our claim to fame is we feel like we can match anyone's price in North America, because we have this small-town labor rate, we're set up to do 100 of these or even one of those, or 20 of these or 500 of those."
On the engineering side, JTT has a wealth of experience in product development. "We're all 30-year veterans," says Dale. "We've all worked together for 10, 20 years, so there's not much we can't do. I always say, 'We do the hard stuff,' and it's true. A lot of our work is rescuing clients that went to the wrong engineers."
"Our analog skills are what sets us apart from everybody else," he adds. "We're very capable in analog and things that modern engineers don't think about. They don't teach it in schools."
With engineers in Utah, Arizona, and California, JTT's production employees -- bolstered by about 15 contractors when needed -- work out of a 3,000-square-foot facility in Castle Dale (population: 1,500).
"I grew up in this little town," says Dale. "I was a musician and an engineer. This is a coal-mining town, and I was never going to be a coal miner. I was never cut out to be a cattle rancher."
His experience with Fender has motivated him to provide similar opportunities to the youth in Castle Dale. "I always hated the fact that I had to leave here to have a career somewhere else. All the smartest, geekiest kids like me, the nerdy brainiacs, they all had to leave. . . . I decided we could help do something about it."
That means culture is king at JTT. "I always say, 'We have a no-jerk policy,'" says Dale. "We don't employ any jerks and we don't have clients that are jerks. We tend to fall in love with our clients, and we're more than 'design a product for you' kind of guys. Instead, we partner with you."
The COVID-19 pandemic stalled growth, but Dale forecasts JTT's engineering and manufacturing to respectively grow by 120 percent and 160 percent in 2022. "We're going to have our second-biggest year," he says. "We've completely recovered from COVID and are back at the peak of the levels before COVID came."
Challenges: Operating in a remote location can be an obstacle. "We are sort of invisible," says Dale. "The sales reps that visit all the companies aren't coming here, and it's taken a long time for people to know who we are."
Opportunities: Growth across multiple industries with small and medium-sized companies. "We enjoy the variety," says Dale. "We love learning new things. We're super experienced, but we're too experienced to not like doing something new."
Business aside, the other big opportunity is continuing to broaden the horizon for the local workforce in Castle Dale. "I think we've done a lot of good in this little place," says Dale. "I've been in big business my whole career, and I started this to be very different. . . . For me, it's a labor of love, not a labor of necessity."
Needs: A sales boost. "Even though we've reached a certain critical mass and we do get sought out, there's nobody in this company that's a salesman or even a biz dev person," says Dale. "If somebody doesn't find us, they don't find us."