Don Lynn is as quiet as the West Plains alfalfa field where he moved his company, Lyn-Tron Inc.
But in his soft-spoken manner, the 48-year-old manufacturer of electronic components has become a prophet to the Spokane business community.
He’s known as a Los Angeles man who emerged from urban hell to warn Spokane of the evils of unshackled growth.
“Spokane is how it was 25 years ago when I was growing up” in Burbank, says Lynn, who relocated Lyn-Tron to Spokane in 1993.
“Now it (Los Angeles area) is covered by crime and graffiti. That has to be addressed otherwise it becomes a mess. People with good values move out and your city suffers from a real loss of talent.”
As a supplier to Hewlett-Packard and several national parts distributors, Lynn could have put his company anywhere. Salt Lake City was attractive to the devout Morman, and sites in Seattle, Portland and Denver were considered.
But in 1993, the sandy-haired executive chose Spokane because he believed it had the corporate and community values he treasured for his company and five children.
Since that time, Lynn has became a symbol of the California business migration to the Inland Northwest.
In recent weeks, he was named to the board of Momentum ‘95, a powerful 550-member economic development group. The election signaled Lynn’s acceptance by Spokane’s top business leaders, who rarely have welcomed a California transplant into their circle.
“Not every outsider gets accepted that quickly,” said Gordon Budke, president of Momentum ‘95 and managing partner of Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm. “He has a chance to talk about what he saw happening in his old community, and we can learn from that.”
What Lynn saw in Southern California alarmed him: threats from employees; buildings marred by graffiti; mothers and children looting storefronts.
“Is this caused by a poverty of money, or a poverty of values?” Lynn says, shaking his head of the memories.
Lynn grew up in Burbank and has spent 22 years at the company his father founded in 1956. After completing a two-year stint in the Army, a high school graduate who wanted to be an architect, took over Lyn-Tron in 1973.
In his first year, Lynn’s company generated $400,000 in annual sales, mostly from the sale of metal terminals, which served as a soldering post for wires and electronic components. In 1995, sales will top $7 million.
Lyn-Tron hasn’t made solder terminals for years. As the electronics industry moved into mass production of personal computers, Lynn moved with it.
Operating a noisy factory of 44 Davenport screw machines on Thomas Mallen Road, Lyn-Tron churns out 500,000 parts a day for computer manufacturers. The company also makes parts for gas engines and semi-trailers.
The parts are nearly as important to computers as software, but at a fraction of the cost. The tiny spacers, screws and other metal and plastic components are the high-tech mortar that cements components of a computer together.
For a few cents each, Lyn-Tron’s hexagonal parts connect cable lines to the backs of PCs and secure printed circuit boards inside the box for optimal efficiency.
Demand for computers is so hot that Lynn says he’s considering a second shift if he can find qualified people to operate the oily, elongated screw machines. The company currently employs 75 workers.
“You hire good people and get out of their way,” Lynn says, defining his management philosophy. “I know a little about everything, but don’t know a lot about anything.”
Lynn, a biking enthusiast who sometimes pedals to work, says the transition to Spokane has been smooth. He’s become a Spokane Indians baseball fan and is building a new house south of Moran Prairie.
It’s a far cry from La Canada, a Los Angeles suburb that Lynn shared with neighbor and actor Kevin Costner. But Lynn is glad he fled the area for Spokane, and hopes his children won’t have to move away when they’re his age.
“It’s hard to watch the town you grew up in deteriorate,” he says.