Entrepreneur takes high-tech skills to new level

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Becoming a printer may have been the last thing young Jim McBride imagined happening in his career. And yet the new pursuit fits his background like hand in glove.

The amazing VUTEK digital printer, one of only about a dozen in the world, requires knowledge of electricity, mechanics, computers, gadgetry, thermodynamics &045; the list goes on.

For McBride, 36, whose earliest years centered on taking apart and putting back together small gadgets and AM radios, every step of his working years prepared him for the opportunity to establish JM Digital Printing.

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&uot;We were gadget masters from day one,&uot; he said, referring to himself and to his brothers, John and Jeff, both of whom work with him in the business.

While studying electronics at Hinds Community College, McBride worked at a Jackson company owned by his uncle. He learned mechanics, working on everything from tractors to weed eaters.

Electronics was the first love, however, and he began a business to pursue that talent in about 1987 &045; in his father’s garage. &uot;We put up sheetrock, painted, put in electricity and a phone. We were getting into business but we didn’t have any business,&uot; he said.

With a new checking account and a gift of $100 from his father to get the business started, he first went to a printer, an irony only in retrospect.

&uot;We had business cards printed and spent about $70 on that and then went everywhere handing them out.&uot;

He recalls some tough times with little business. Then, when someone brought an electronic product to be repaired, he knew he ought to have diagnostic tools, pricey investments at about $10,000, to provide efficient service.

&uot;I got an answer machine and left a message on it. Then I went out and got a job working on television repairs.&uot; Still, being his own boss was his dream, and a break came his way when Fidelity Tire called one day.

&uot;They had a critical piece of equipment to break down. We went over and picked up the electronic circuitry and were able to repair it,&uot; he said. &uot;More work came as a result. Within weeks, we had made maybe $10,000.&uot;

No one was happier for the sons than his father, McBride said. &uot;We moved out of the house and out of the garage at the same time.&uot;

Car radio repair was the biggest portion of the business. Then there was the boom craze in car radios; then cellular phones for a while.

Another big break for the company was getting the contract with the City of Natchez to do electronic work for three projects &045; the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, the Natchez Convention Center and the Natchez Community Center.

McBride also pursued casino business, working first with Lady Luck to install the surveillance cameras and do other electronic work there.

&uot;When Isle of Capri came in, that’s what gave us a big opportunity. We found out there was going to be a major facelift.&uot;

JM Electronics was on its way to spinning off the new business, JM Digital Printing, at that point. McBride realized the magnitude of the opportunity and eagerly pursued it.

&uot;We did that first job for them and turned it around quick. We wanted more. We bought a printer to do posters, then realized we needed a laminator. We wanted to do their banners but that took another type of printer.&uot;

During this time, the company continued to focus on electronics, he said. &uot;But digital was starting to grow. And Isle of Capri had

major program coming up and asked us to bid on the printing,&uot; McBride said. &uot;We began researching. The whole thing is how many square feet you can produce per hour and what you can produce it for.&uot;

The company bid and won the contract. &uot;We faxed it to them Friday. On Monday, they said to proceed.&uot;

Isle of Capri folks were pleased with the outcome, McBride said. &uot;They loved it. But we printed it at a loss, and we were exhausted.&uot;

A month or two later, another big promotion came along. &uot;We did it,&uot; he said. &uot;We also continued to do electronics for the casino, their audio and surveillance cameras &045; anything that is high tech.&uot;

Meantime, research led the company to the latest in digital printing. With assistance from United Mississippi Bank and the guaranteed loan of about $600,000 through U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development &045; and with help from many others to make the whole concept a success, McBride purchased the printer.

&uot;Now I can do with three guys what it would take 30 to do,&uot; he said. &uot;We can print directly onto any surface.&uot;

The only drawback? &uot;To do this kind of work takes a behemoth like this, and you have to be part engineer, part mad scientist, part mechanic to know how to work it,&uot; he said of the printer.

JM Digital Printing purchased only the second printer produced by the company, which is based in New Hampshire. &uot;We’re teaching them things about it they didn’t know,&uot; he said.

McBride said he is particularly proud that such a cutting-edge piece of technology operates in Natchez. &uot;They always talk about dumb old Mississippi and poor Southwest Mississippi, but there is technology here.&uot;

His business, employing 11 people, now focuses on securing as many casino contracts as possible &045; a good market, McBride said. However, other businesses are catching his eye, and he is ready to move.

&uot;I’m ambitious, and I have a tremendous amount of responsibility,&uot; he said. &uot;That note is very steep and comes every 30 days. A lot of people have put their reputations on the line for us. There is more we can do to develop this business.&uot;