Horicon Bank + Creative Design Network

Creative Design Network is a small-scale machine shop that does big things. CDN’s half-dozen engineers help clients from startups to blue-chip companies concept, prototype, and produce short-run production for parts and inventions.

They’ve done work for NASA. CDN produced the aluminum supports that mount the gamma ray burst sensors on NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope, which has been monitoring space phenomena like black holes and supernovas since 2008.

“We’re creative problem-solvers here,” said CDN Owner Mike Peters. “We’ve developed a culture where every idea is given a chance, but also is intensely interrogated.”

“It’s controlled chaos,” said co-Owner Robert Fuller. “We have a close-knit team who have enough respect for each other to communicate in a very raw kind of way, if you know what I mean.”

Before all this, CDN began as the engineering wing of a Chicago-based industrial design company specializing in cookware and exercise equipment. In 2000, CDN broke off from on its own. Mike and Robert bought it in 2006.

Financially, CDN depends on speed. As a smaller-scale shop, taking on larger projects requires fast financial assistance. When filling a large purchase order for, say, a few hundred thousand units of a product, CDN needs the funds to finance production. If they can’t secure it, they lose the opportunity.

CDN has banked with Horicon Bank since Mike and Robert took over.

“We knew Rose Petitte, who was a commercial banker for Horicon at the time, and we followed her from her previous bank when she came to Horicon,” Mike said. “We wanted a personal banking experience. We didn’t want to be just another client to our bank, and with Horicon, we’ve gotten exactly what we wanted.”

Rose changed roles at Horicon and now heads Horicon’s retail banking team. Today, Horicon commercial banker Mike Fleishman works with CDN. They credit him with knowing everything about their business, and he’s helped them with numerous equipment, vehicle, building, and working capital lending.

“Compared to other banks, a community bank eliminates like 10 steps. When we need him, Mike comes over. We sign the forms, make a few jokes, talk a little shop, then he’s out,” Robert said. “I really believes he enjoys understanding our business, and that makes it fun. The whole bank is like that. We’ve known almost everyone over there and at our regular branch.”

Fleishman said understanding CDN’s business has been vital. CDN isn’t a full-fledged manufacturing facility stamping out parts by the tens of millions. Their work in design, engineering, and prototyping precedes all that.

“Their business is a bit like a rollercoaster. They bridge the gap between development and large-scale production, so their projects are finite,” Fleishman said. “We, as a bank, need to weather the valleys with them and be flexible with lending sources in the peaks as well as the valleys.”

When COVID struck, CDN decided to stay open. But when the model and prototype business dried up, the manufacturing side kept them afloat.

“Originally, we didn’t want to take PPP money, but Horicon encouraged us to, and we’re glad they did,” Mike said. “They made the process easy. We’d have been in big trouble without that.”

The manufacturing industry often feels the effects of global shifts. Unpredictability is part of the game. Recovering from the pandemic will take a few years. Mike and Robert plan to build growth and security where they can.

“At the end of the day, there’s always something different coming in each month, and that keeps this work interesting and exciting,” Robert said.

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