Hot off the printing press

Filed under: Focus |

Printing is a competitive business and an expensive operation. When government subdivisions are competing against the private sector for the same business, it makes it even more competitive, said Jim Grammer, owner of Gowdy Printcraft Press.

But one political biggie – the U.S. government – is trying to spread the wealth among businesses in the private business sector.

The main printing production headquarters of the U.S. Government Printing Office is the largest information processing, printing and distribution facility in the world. “Many of our nation’s most important information products, such as the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, are produced at the GPO’s main plant, a 1.5 million square-foot complex in Washington, D.C., said Bruce James, the chief executive officer of the GPO. “The GPO is the federal government’s primary centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing and preserving published information in all its forms.”

However, James said the majority of the government’s printing needs are met “through a long-standing partnership with America’s printing industry, dating back to the beginning of World War II.”

James said that the GPO procures between 600 and 1,000 print-related projects per day through private sector vendors in all 50 states. “The contracts cover the entire spectrum of printing and publishing services and are available to fit almost any firm from the largest to the smallest,” he said. “It is one of the government’s most successful procurement programs, assuring the most cost-effective use of the taxpayers’ printing dollars.”

Government subdivisions, such as the prison systems, house large printing shops as well. Prison shops usually print for state agencies and school districts while training inmates for careers outside of confinement.

Some school systems also are into printing. Colorado Springs School District 11 has been in the business since 1957, said Joe Morin, D 11’s production printing manager. The D 11 printing production plant was cited as the top school district implant in the state two years ago, Morin said.

Although the school does not offer a student training program, the plant is self-sustaining and employs 18 people. Morin said that during the last nine years the printing department has provided $2 million to the school’s general fund.

Glenn Gustafson is D 11’s chief financial officer. He said the school print shop generated $1.8 million in revenue in 2003, netting $132,000, which stayed in the print shop fund. “This year, we won’t see a profit,” Gustafson said.

D 11 won’t see a profit this year, in part, because the print shop purchased a half-million dollar four-color press – a Ryobi Offset. In addition to print capabilities, the department offers pre-press services, such as desk-top publishing, which is mainly reserved for in-house print materials, Morin said.

Five percent of D 11’s print customers are nonprofit organizations, and most submit camera-ready materials, he said. Printing costs for the nonprofits are about half of what a private printing company charges, Morin said.

He sends advertising pieces three or four times a year to his customers, both internal and external. “We only have about three or four small nonprofit organizations that use our print services,” he said. Morin said he would not turn down business from big nonprofits, such as United Way and Focus on the Family. “Although we try to market our services as much as we can, we mainly rely on word-of-mouth advertising because we don’t have advertising dollars like Kinko’s,” he said.

Speaking of Kinko’s and other private competitors, Morin and Gustafson insist that operations are in place only as a cost savings to the district.

“We do not want to compete with the community, especially when we have certain advantages like not paying income taxes,” Gustafson said. “We are not trying to put Kinko’s out of business – we are sensitive to that. Our primary focus is serving School District 11 customers.”

Bennie Spiegel is the president of Fittje Brothers Printing, a full-service commercial print shop that has been in business in the Springs for 30 years. Spiegel isn’t threatened by the school district’s operations. “I seriously doubt with the equipment they have, even with the new press, that they are going out for any serious commercial work,” Spiegel said. “D 11 has always done a lot for the school district and some for the nonprofits, and we don’t see them as a competitor. Ink on paper is one thing but ink on paper on another level is another thing.”

Dan Bernheim has been in the printing business for more than 40 years and is a lifelong resident of Colorado Springs. If it’s cost effective for a government subdivision, such as school districts and prison systems, to house printing production operations and serve training purposes, he agrees with Spiegel. However, if a government subdivision is going after a chunk of private business, that’s a different story. The competition is tough enough, Bernheim said. He should know.

Bernheim’s father, Fred, moved to the Union Printers Home in the Springs from New Jersey because he thought he suffered from tuberculosis, the younger Bernheim said. The elder Bernheim worked as a typesetter for Gowdy Printcraft. Leland Gowdy, its founder, died in 1930 and his brother offered the business to Fred Bernheim for $1,000 – Bernheim paid it back in a year and later bought Pioneer Publishing and combined the two.

The Bernheim family, with Fred Bernheim at the helm, built the business and founded the four military papers, which were recently sold to Dolan Media Co. When Fred Bernheim died in 1997, his four children – Phyllis, Robert, John and Dan – inherited the business – Robert, a physical chemist, is the only sibling who has never been employed at Gowdy.

About three years ago, the Bernheim family sold the business to Jim Grammer.

Dan Bernheim remembers when Gowdy Printcraft was the only game in town. The Springs burgeoning population has prompted hearty competition in the printing business with more than 100 printers now listed in the Yellow Pages (not all are full service commercial printers). Competition gets even tougher, Bernheim said, when local companies and organizations send printing jobs out-of-state.

Some printers may have lost school-related business, too, (Bernheim recalled the days when Gowdy printed many of Harrison School’s (D 11) materials) and perhaps a smidgeon of nonprofit business as a result of D 11’s in-house printing operation. However, taxpayers save money when districts utilize cost-saving programs.

Grammer, Spiegel and Bernheim agreed they can live with a little competition from the district. Gustafson and Morin said they want to ensure them and everyone else that’s all it is – just an inkblot in the bigger picture.