U. S. Marine Corps
By Mary Beth Roach
Infused with an entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to affect people’s lives, a great deal of discipline and a network of support he found locally, Michael Bower was able to leave the corporate world and acquire his own company about a year-and-a-half ago.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran became the owner of the East Syracuse-based Eagle Metalcraft Co., a 70-year-old precision sheet metal company about 18 months ago, having worked with its former owner Jim Helmer for about three years prior.
Bower, now 53, entered the Marines in 1988 and during his four-year tour, he said the Marine Corps taught him discipline.
“When I left the Marine Corps, I left with a great big bucket of discipline and I guess it’s always been with me. Discipline to carry it over the finish line,” he said.
That discipline would come to serve him well. After the marines, he entered the workforce in manufacturing.
Over the years, he had climbed the corporate ladder in various companies, becoming operations and plant managers and he crisscrossed the country. While working full-time and tending to his family, Bower earned an associate’s degree in electronics, a bachelor’s in physics-optics, and a master’s degree in engineering.
A job with the Eaton Corporation at the former Crouse-Hinds plant in Syracuse brought the Arkansas native to Syracuse.
But he knew he wanted more.
“I think I just started questioning ‘What am I doing each day that contributes to the bottom line? What am I contributing to the positive aspects of people?’” he said.
He said that at different times in his life, he had dreamed of owning a business; he just needed to figure out how to make it happen.
He began researching businesses, but realized he needed a better network, so he started working with Mark Pitonzo, an adviser with the Onondaga Small Business Development Center and the area chapter of SCORE. The latter is a national outfit with local offices, whose volunteer mentors help up-and-coming small business owners with their initiatives. Bower has become a SCORE mentor, as well.
In late 2019, Bower learned that Eagle Metalcraft was for sale and he began the acquisition process. But he explained that he pulled the offer in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and negative sales. However, Bower and then-owner Helmer continued to talk. Helmer was planning to retire after 40 years in the business and in July of 2020, he went to work with and for him to help drive the business sales up to restart the purchase process. It took a long time to get the deal done, “but it did provide me the opportunity to learn the business, the employees and customers. I took full ownership in February of 2022,” he said.
The business has doubled its sales; its workforce has expanded; and Bower continues to update the equipment and floor space at the plant.
The company was honored as the Veteran-Owned Business of the Year for 2023 by the U.S. Small Business Administration Upstate New York region. Bower’s goal, he said, is to double again within five years.
The employees at Eagle Metalcraft — Bower refers to them as the team — span generations. One worker has more than 50 years of experience, while several others have been brought in just over the past few months.
“The diversity of these different groups is extremely valuable and we’re getting to live it,” he said.