Jim Collins was running out of ideas in September 2009. During the tail end of the economic downturn, he lost his job working for the Austin-based semiconductor manufacturer Freescale.
Seven months of sending out resumes and applying for jobs had proven fruitless, so he decided to make his own career path.
“Throughout that summer I had heard about these laser engravers and all the materials they could work on, all the stuff they could do,” Collins said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way one machine can do all this stuff.’”
Frustrated with his ongoing job search, Collins, a Buda resident, bought a laser engraver and began his trial-and-error education in the art of engraving. It was not long before he got his first clients, a Boy Scout troop in need of customized flashlights, and Fire Light Laser was born.
The business has since grown from the shed behind Collins’ house to an office at 1645 Main St., Buda.
Collins said Fire Light Laser is a popular choice for local businesses making nametags for employees or sports leagues making trophies. Collins has also worked on everything from canoe paddles to wine glasses.
“Anything I can get on the computer screen I can get onto a surface,” Collins said.
The laser engraver uses a concentrated light beam to etch the surfaces of materials—including plastic, wood and glass.
The Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce has used Fire Light Laser for years, Chamber CEO Julie Snyder said. Collins provided the awards for the 2015 chamber gala, she said.
“He’ll come out and give you samples and do some engraving and give you an idea of what [the finished product] might look like,” she said. “He’s very good with customer service and on the actual product, too.”
Collins said a typical engraved plaque on particle board would cost about $20. For high-end wood, the cost could go up to $35 to $40.
Collins said he has a passion for woodworking that predates his love of lasers, and he uses that skill to build handmade wood boxes that can be engraved.
He recently invested in a mechanical engraving machine that allows him to engrave identification numbers on guns, a necessity for gun owners.
Fire Light Laser has provided Collins with more freedom than he ever had at his previous job, he said.
“I’d like to get this thing built up to where I could either sell it or get my wife to the point where she can decide if she wants to stay at the USDA or come work here or get one of my sons to come take it over,” he said.
But Collins doesn’t have retirement on his mind just yet. His ambition stretches throughout the county, he said.
“Whenever I’m standing up in front of the chamber of commerce or something like that, I say, ‘It’s my goal to get everyone in Hays County wearing one of my name badges—and you can help,’” Collins said.