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Making a difference Scientific Specialties brings innovation, jobs to Lodi

Company on Eastside creates plastic products for scientific research

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Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:42 am, Thu Jan 5, 2012.

In a compound of buildings on Lodi's Eastside, K.R. Hovatter is masterminding a world of plastic to help change the world.

Hovatter designs and builds an array of products used around the world, from Korea to Germany. The company he founded with his wife Robbie, Scientific Specialties, creates thousands of products each day for medical research.

In 2011, as many Lodi firms retracted, Scientific Specialties expanded, and dramatically. An $8 million project added 70,000 square feet to the company's development and manufacturing center on Thurman Street in Lodi's industrial district. The company now employs 120 workers, including laborers, product testers, designers and managers.

The company started in 1990 with a 3,000-square-foot building and two employees — K.R. and Robbie. Their family-owned company is now a dynamo of productivity, creating products seven days a week, 24-hours a day.

The Hovatters met at Willow Glen High School in San Jose, then attended San Jose State University. K.R. studied chemistry while Robbie studied nursing and art. At the University of California, Los Angeles, K.R. earned a doctorate in chemistry. The couple has three children: Kyle, 25; Danielle, 22 and Peter, 20.

K.R. Hovatter's career has been a blend of science, art, and enterprise. He holds several patents and takes great pride in building products that are both elegant and functional.

"Essentially, we try to build a better mousetrap," he said. His company's growth is propelled in large measure by the stepped-up government funding of medical research in recent years.

The products are diverse and specialized. Among their primary products are compact tubes of various ilk and the racks to hold them.

Many of K.R. Hovatter's little pieces of plastic are used for a process called PCR, or polymerase chain reaction. It is a fast and relatively inexpensive way to make many copies of small segments of DNA for testing and research.

The products are sold through dealers to medical and research operations worldwide.

The business of building medical plastics is brutally competitive, with Asian and Indian companies offering similar products. But while the business is competitive, it is also selective. Technicians and researchers need products that are of supreme consistency and quality.

Hovatter, on a tour of his company, pointed out large plastic injection machines, each a marvel of mechanical and electronic integration.

"These come from Germany. We could have bought less expensive injectors, but they are not as good. We felt it was worth the investment."

Scientific Specialties focuses on quality, customer service, and flexibility. If a customer wants a customized product, or one that bears a special logo, that can happen with minimal fuss. With its array of injection machines and molds, the company can make more than 1,000 different products.

Last year, in fact, the company shipped more than one billion parts.

It is a balancing act, though, between maintaining strict standards of quality and meeting sometimes-aggressive production demands.

"We are innovative and customer-driven, but we are also honest, at times painfully so," said Paul Connelly, sales and marketing manager. "If the customer wants something that can't be done, we tell them that. You can't just wave a magic wand and make something happen if it doesn't align with our standards of quality."

Why did the Hovatters choose Lodi?

The couple knew of a moldmaker in Lodi that introduced them to the community.

They built the business here, in part, because of good electric rates and a large labor pool willing to work for reasonable wages.

When the decision was made to move to Lodi, Robbie Hovatter was eager but a bit curious, too.

"My thought was, 'What is Lodi?' Coming from the Bay Area, we didn't know quite what to expect," she said. "Now, we absolutely love it. It is home."

The expansion last year was ambitious, but several thousand square feet remain unfinished.

As even better mousetraps are built, that space will likely be filled, too.

"We've been blessed so far," said K.R. Hovatter. "We hope and pray we can continue to grow."

Contact Editor Rich Hanner at richardh@lodinews.com.

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