A Mercer University alumna recently was featured in Georgia Trend magazine as one of six women trailblazers leading the way in business.
Gwen Collins, who graduated in 1998 with a degree in biomedical engineering, is president of Collins Manufacturing Co. in Macon. She owns the business with her husband, company Vice President Larry Collins, who graduated from Mercer in 1997 with a degree in industrial management.
Gwen Collins was working as a software engineer at Robins Air Force Base when the couple decided they wanted to expand their business, which her husband had acquired in 2006.
At the time, they had five employees who worked in a 6,500-square-foot space.
“We decided that if we wanted to continue and grow the business, we really needed to take advantage of some programs for women- and minority-owned businesses,” she said. “So, I quit my job in February 2011, and we started going down the path of WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) certification for women-owned businesses, and then I started the 8(a) certification process (for small businesses).”
Two years after receiving certification, Collins Manufacturing was awarded its first big job: a multimillion-dollar contract for the U.S. Navy.
Since then, the Navy has been one of the company’s best customers and Collins Manufacturing — which provides precision machining, precision sheet metal fabrication, welding, reverse engineering, draft and design, and field services — has contracted with other Department of Defense agencies as well.
Today, the company has grown to 50 employees in 212,000-square-feet across five facilities in Macon.
“It’s been really in the last three years that we’ve been able to expand that much,” Collins said. “We’ve been able to invest more in equipment, purchase more property and hire more skilled people.”
Last month, Robins Air Force Base awarded Collins Manufacturing, along with seven other contractors, a $1.675 billion, 10-year contract, the largest ever awarded to the company.
The work is significant professionally and personally. Collins’ father is retired from the U.S. Air Force and her father-in-law is retired from the U.S. Army Reserve.
“The fact that we do a lot of Department of Defense work, we manufacture a lot of ground support equipment and tooling that are used by our warfighters, and just knowing that we are able to contribute to the mission, that for me is one of the most fulfilling things,” she said.
Collins and her husband met in their calculus II class at Mercer. They make a good team at home and at work, she said.
“We’ve been able to ping ideas off of each other,” she said. “Larry’s more the pie-in-the-sky risk taker, and I’m the grounded one, so we complement each other in that way.”
Lessons learned at Mercer’s School of Engineering contributed to their success.
“The thing that the engineering school teaches you is how to figure things out, and that has been the biggest lesson that I’ve learned going through the engineering school,” she said. “You may not know everything, but at least you know how to go about figuring it out.”