To the rescue

TSSi in Harrisonburg provides equipment for law enforcement and disasters

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

When a shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded and six others dead, the Pima County Sheriff’s Office relied on trauma kits from Harrisonburg-based TSSi. 

The sheriff’s office opened 75 kits after arriving on the scene in January.  “The department bought about 1,000 more from us after [the incident],” says company President and CEO Bill Strang.

Strang, a U.S. Navy Reserve retiree, started TSSi — formerly known as Tactical & Survival Specialties Inc. — in 1980 while living in Pennsylvania. TSSi provides tactical and specialized operational equipment to the U.S. Department of Defense as well as federal, state and local law enforcement and disaster recovery professionals.

Products range from clo­thing, body armor and field equipment to parachute systems, diving equipment and pro­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­tective equipment for SWAT teams. TSSi also is the prime contractor for life preservers for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. 

Strang moved to Harrisonburg in 1984 when he worked for AMP Inc., an electronics connector manufacturer. At that time, TSSi was a part-time venture. “When I started the business in 1980, it was strictly a hobby,” he says. “I went full time in 1990.”

By 2000, Strang had moved the distribution company into its current 42,000-square-foot headquarters. The facility includes a center where TSSi provides product training.

In addition to its product lines, TSSi custom builds field sanitation, medical and mass casualty kits (often used to treat people wounded by improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan). “We find the best items and package them together,” explains Strang.

In 2008, the company won a $54 million contract to rebuild explosive ordnance disposal tool kits for the Marine Corps. In 2009, it landed a contract to put together personal protective kits for the Coast Guard that can be used in response to pandemics.

TSSi currently has 54 full-time employees as well as two part-time workers and two contractors. Most work in Harrisonburg, but the company also has home-based representatives in seven states: California, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois and Virginia. “Most of our employees [65 percent] are retired military or have had prior service,” Strang says.

During disasters, Strang and his team help find needed items. For instance, they placed a team at ground zero in New York with donated rescue equipment and sent employees to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “We try to work with local agencies to find the items they are looking for,” Strang says. “We use our networks. We don’t go there to sell.”

Strang describes Harrisonburg as a good place to live and work. “The total key to my success has been the quality of the work force here,” he says. “The core is from the Shenandoah Valley. We have a patriotic work force. They work hard and take pride in the fact that we work for the war fighter.”

A college town, Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University and its new Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. The quaint downtown area is filled with restored 19th and early 20th-century architecture. The Heritage Museum tells the history of the Shenandoah Valley region and the Virginia Quilt Museum is a resource for the history of quilts and their place in culture. Thanks to its location in the valley, Harrisonburg offers a host of outdoor activities such as mountain biking and fly-fishing. 

The city’s economy
Harrisonburg’s largest employers, James Madison University and Rockingham Memorial Hospital, both have approximately 2,400 employees. A big part of the area’s economy is centered on services to James Madison. Harrisonburg has a balanced mix of manufacturing and service providers such as companies involved in software development. Other large employers include RR Donnelley (provider of integrated communications), Rosetta Stone (a technology-based language learning company) and Tenneco, which does emission control manufacturing. In May, Florida-based Harris Corp., a Fortune 100 communications and information technology firm, opened a large data center, expanding its Cyber Integrated Solutions business unit. 

More good news came in July when SRI International Center for Advanced Drug Research announced a build-out of its research facility in the Rockingham Center for Research and Technology. With the additional laboratory space, SRI Shenandoah Valley will be able to accommodate 100 scientists, researchers and other staff members. It now has more than 45.

Where to stay
Hotels in Harrisonburg include a Residence Inn by Marriott and a new Hampton Inn. For a different experience, try the Joshua Wilton House Inn. Located in the historic Old Town district of Harrisonburg, the Inn features a gourmet breakfast for two, free WiFi and dining. Rooms are furnished with restored period antiques and reproductions.

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