Celebrating Longevity

Anniversaries: Occasions to Enjoy What’s Worked Well

By Charles McChesney

Coming near the middle of a tumultuous century, 1947 doesn’t stand out as a momentous year. And yet, of GAWDA members marking major anniversaries this year, that is the year many were founded.

Sure, a statistical scientist could explain it away, but the question still lingers: What’s was so special about 1947 that so many companies begun then made it to their 70th anniversary?

By 1947, the country’s increasing prosperity was putting to rest fears that World War II’s end would bring the return of the Great Depression. Instead, the country was gaining confidence, according to Benjamin Waterhouse, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina and the author of the just published, “The Land of Enterprise: A Business History of the United States.” In 1947, he adds, “America was “primed for historic growth.”

That also was the year Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, the still-standing law that set the rules for how labor and management would interact in America. The act banned wildcat and jurisdictional strikes, created right-to-work regulations that are still intact, and left labor with a seat at the table, says Waterhouse.

And 1947 proved to be a good year for GAWDA members founded then who maintained and grew all the way into the 21st Century. Here, some of those GAWDA members share what has helped them reach milestone anniversaries from five years to 275 years in 2017.

Taylor-Wharton

No company on these pages has more candles on its cake than Taylor-Wharton. The company, founded in 1742, is marking its 275th anniversary this year, making it 34 years older than the United States. (George Washington was a boy of 10 when Taylor-Wharton began.)

Recent years have brought lots of change, says Luke Bradshaw, vice president of business development and marketing. “We are extremely excited about our current position in the market. By maintaining key executives and strategic team members while also adding new ownership and increased investment, we have been able to regain a strong foothold in the market,” he says.

Bradshaw sees adapting to meet customer needs as the reason Taylor-Wharton is around for a 275th. “Our roots have always been in metal fabrication, commencing with carbon steel horse shoes, nails, and even cannonballs during the Revolutionary War. Over time, we transitioned into engineered products including manganese railroad tracks, artillery shells, high pressure gas cylinders and later, cryogenics through our acquisition of Union Carbide’s and Linde’s manufacturing facilities.”

The company plans to expand product offerings and is focused on a larger U.S. presence. “Our high-level strategy involves continued growth in market share by capitalizing on both our increased investments and improved distribution, as well as expansions into complementary product lines and acquisitions,” Bradshaw says.

Old adds of Taylor-Wharton

Materials from Taylor-Wharton in the 1940's

Materials from Taylor-Wharton in the 1940s show off the company’s products and interest in quality control. Bottom: A long time ago, Taylor-Wharton was in the business of making cannonballs. Photos courtesy of Taylor-Wharton.

Fein Power Tools

Fein Power Tools Inc., dates back to 1867 when Emil Fein founded the company in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1895, the company created the first hand-held electric drill, Fein says.

Metal and Products Manager Joshua Chiprich says the company has lasted so long by continuing to be innovative and demanding a level of quality that “ensures only products completely meeting our own high expectations leave our facilities in Europe, Asia and North America with the name ‘Fein’ on them.”

He says the future for the power tool maker is bright. “We are on the cusp of change as a company with a lot of new and exciting products coming out over the next few years. We will be a leader in the metal working power tool industry.”

New Vs Old Fein Power Tools

Top: A print of Fein Power Tools factory in Germany in the 19th century. Illustration courtesy of Fein Power Tools.

Bottom: Today, Fein Power Tools has more modern facilities on three continents. Photo courtesy of Fein Power Tools.

Osborn

When things began back in 1887 in Cleveland, Ohio, Osborn made horse brushes, brushes to clean butcher blocks and brushes to sweep streets. Today the company makes industrial brushes and grinding and flap wheels.

For decades, Osborn was led by Franklin Smith, a young man who bought the majority of the company in 1895, according to Osborn’s Brian Keiser, director of operations and engineering. Smith was active with the firm until his death in 1968.

Over the years, Osborn has been involved in making cotton mops, dusters and liquid polish as well as foundry equipment and, during World War I, rifle-cleaning brushes, Keiser relates.

Osborn was founded and grew in Cleveland, Ohio, where this factory once stood. Photo courtesy of Osborn.

Osborn was founded and grew in Cleveland, Ohio, where this factory once stood. Photo courtesy of Osborn.

Phoenix International

Phoenix International is best known for its Dryrod ovens, equipment designed to keep welding rods moisture-free. The Milwaukee-based company is marking its 125th anniversary in 2017.

Its ovens are made to be repairable, says Dick Wilkinson, managing director. Even the newest models are made so they can be repaired, he says. “We get pictures of our ovens that have been used since the ‘60s,” Wilkinson adds.

The company was founded by George Wordingham, who had a business in England that was destroyed by fire. Rather than rebuild there, he headed for New Zealand, but on the way there, stopped in Milwaukee to visit family. He revised his plans, deciding that Milwaukee was the place for his business to rise from the ashes, like the legendary bird.

Today, the company is led by the fourth generation of the founding family and the president shares the founder’s name (George Wordingham). As part of its anniversary, Phoenix has introduced a new company logo featuring three circles, representing three perfect weld beads.

New vs Old Phoenix International Photo

Left: Phoenix International’s electrode ovens on display at a trade show. Photo courtesy of Phoenix International.

Right: As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, Phoenix International has introduced a new logo, on display at the Contact Booth Program during this year’s GAWDA Spring Management Conference. Photos courtesy of Phoenix International.

Airweld

“We’ve done everything we could to stay independent,” says Tom Biederman, vice president of Airweld in Farmingdale, N.Y., on Long Island. The company has managed it so well, it is marking its 100th anniversary this year.

The firm can trace its beginnings to Perfection Storage Battery in 1917. As the company grew, it served both the welding and automotive industries under names that included Prestolite, F & G Welding, Barto Welding, Arrow Welding, Fabro Industries and Rayno Distributors. Brought together by mergers and acquisitions, the combined business took the Airweld name in 1978. The company has continued to acquire other businesses since.

Biederman has been with the company for 39 years and says Airweld’s longevity has come from being a leader in the market, and that has come by staying up with changes. Airweld has five filling locations and smaller pickup stores to make it easier to supply customers throughout the New York metropolitan area.

Over the years, the company has kept up with changing technology for delivering products and expanded its products to meet demand. In recent years, that has meant adding a specialty gas lab and producing its own helium.

In addition, Biederman says safety has evolved to be a top concern at Airweld. Nowadays everyone understands that safety is key, he says.

Biederman sees a bright future for the 80-employee company as it continues to serve New York City and the nearby area. “We’re open to anything and are always looking at acquisitions,” he says.

Airweld

Top: Airweld can trace its roots back to Perfection Storage Battery in 1917. Photo courtesy of Airweld.

Bottom: Airweld has adapted to different means to deliver products on the often-challenging streets in the New York Metropolitan area. Photo courtesy of Airweld.

Hobart Brothers

Hobart Brothers marked its 100th anniversary with a gathering of more than 500 employees, retirees and others at its Troy, Ohio, headquarters in mid-May.

Today, the company is focused on welding wires and electrodes. “The future is built on very targeted markets where we can bring value and improvement to customers who are building the world,” states David Knoll, the company’s vice president and general manager.

The company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Illinois Tool Works (ITW), can trace its history to early arc welding development and to welder-generators used in the field during World War II, says Knoll. Through its history, the company has adapted to market demands — at one point even building all-steel houses in Troy.

David Knoll

David Knoll at the company’s 100th year celebration.

Hobart filler metals have been used on some high-profile projects over the years, including the Sears Tower, Toronto’s CN Tower, Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and the new Minnesota Vikings’ stadium, Knoll recounts. “It’s been an innovative company throughout its history,” he says. Today, the company is focused on welding wires and stick electrodes.

“Our future will be built with a continued focus on markets where we bring high integrity welds and improved productivity to customers building products and structures the world relies upon,” Knoll says.

Metro Welding Supply Corporation

Howard Stoneback founded Metro Welding Supply in Detroit, Mich., 80 years ago, his grandson J.P. Stoneback notes. Today, with more than 70 employees and a branch in Ypsilanti, Mich., the company continues to try new things.

“We’ve been open to new ideas, but held to our core values,” Stoneback says. Metro Welding stocks more than 40 major brands of welding, industrial, and safety products for fabricating shops. In 1997, the company expanded its filling plant to include specialty gas production and an analytical laboratory. In 1999, the company expanded its propane and propylene pumping facilities. In 2010, the firm expanded its laboratory.

“In the past three years, we’ve added beverage gas, expanded our filling facilities to instrument-grade propane, butane and isobutane as well as dry ice at our Ypsilanti facility,” J.P. says.

Top: Metro Welding Supply Corporation’s founder, Howard Stoneback, left, with his son, Neal Stoneback in this picture from the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Metro Welding Supply Corporation.

Bottom: Howard Stoneback’s grandsons run Metro Welding Supply today. On a recent fishing trip with their father, they are, from left, Greg Stoneback, Gary Stoneback and J.P. Stoneback. Their father, Neal Stoneback, is at right. Photo courtesy of Metro Welding Supply Corporation.

Lucas-Milhaupt

Lucas-Milhaupt, Inc. has made it seven and half decades by keeping up with changes affecting its end users, says Gary DeVries, global marketing manager for the Cudahy, Wisc., company.

The firm is focused on filler metals and other materials used in brazing, and that has meant developing new fillers as advances have required different materials to be joined by brazing. While brazing was once about joining two metals, high-technology users now braze to join metals to ceramics, requiring new formulas, notes DeVries.

Lucas-Milhaupt supplies markets around the world from plants located in the United States, Canada, Poland, China and France. In recent years, the company has achieved growth through a combination of organic growth, new products and acquisitions. A division of publicly traded Handy & Harman LTD, Lucas-Milhaupt, with about 500 employees, sees a continuing strong need for its products. “We see a bright future,” DeVries adds.

Trainees gather for a lesson

 Trainees learn about brazing

Top: Trainees gather for a lesson in this photo from Lucas-Milhaupt, Inc.’s archives from around the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Lucas-Milhaupt.

Bottom: Trainees learn about brazing during a recent Lucas-Milhaupt training session. Photo courtesy of Lucas-Milhaupt.

Central McGowan

Joe Francis, president and CEO of Central McGowan in Saint Cloud, Minn., doesn’t pause a moment when asked about the key to his company’s reaching its 70th anniversary. “It’s the employees,” he says. The company has some 90 employees, including some who have been with Central McGowan since the 1980s.

With an experienced work force, Francis says the company has been able to build a modern operation, expanding from traditional lines – not just selling and servicing, but also building machines for automation. Today, about a sixth of Central McGowan’s workers are involved in the automation end of the business.

Francis sees things continuing to improve for the company as it builds out distribution from its current three facilities and as automation continues to bring in more business.

CEO Joe Francis

Top: Central McGowan has been in the welding and gases business since the 1940s and has recently expanded into robotics manufacturing

Bottom: Central McGowan CEO Joe Francis shows the 70-year-old company’s mission and vision statements.

Industrial Welding Supply, Inc.

Jim Cusick’s father started Industrial Welding Supply in 1947. Today Cusick mostly works from home while his son, Scott Cusick, handles operations at the Sayreville, N.J.-headquartered company.

Jim began at Industrial Welding Supply when he was 17. He says the company is still guided by the principles that his father held important: “Treat the customers like family.” Scott Cusick believes part of the company’s longevity is due to its ability to keep employees, an ability that springs from that “treat them like family” philosophy.

Both father and son are optimistic about the future for the company and its 26 employees. Jim sees a lot of construction work driving demand for gases and welding supplies. In his area, that’s everything from highways to power plants. “This should be one of our busiest years,” says Scott, noting that because the company runs lean, it could be a very good year.

Industrial Welding Supply, Inc

Industrial Welding Supply, Inc., in Sayreville, N.J., marks its 70th anniversary this year. Photo courtesy of Industrial Welding Supply.

Jackson Welding & Gas Products .

Like many GAWDA members, Robert Jackson credits service for helping his family-owned company reach its 70th anniversary. But he quickly adds that sacrifice has been important as well for Jackson Welding & Gas Products.

“There has to be some level of sacrifice to create an opportunity for a business to continue under the same family,” Jackson says of the Rochester, N.Y., business. “I know my father and grandmother made all kinds of plans and did all the right things to make sure the company could move forward without massive complications that could easily derail the whole thing.”

“For any owner of a company, a huge percentage of our personal value is tied up in these businesses,” he says. The question is always there: “Am I going to cash in or create the right environment for the assets to transfer from generation to generation?”

In the two generations before him, instead of selling the business, Jackson’s grandmother and father grew it and invested time and effort in providing structure and guidance as he was growing up, recalls Jackson. He was told; “Without customers, we don’t have much to do.”

To help the company grow and perpetuate into the next generation, Jackson Welding has formalized its processes and its five-, 10- and 20-year plans. The upcoming generation, the oldest of whom has turned 15 years old, isn’t involved yet, but, Jackson says, “they’ve expressed interest.”

Northern Gases & Supplies.

Want to know the real key to having a company last 70 years? “Just keep at it,” says Steven Trump, president of Northern Gases and Supplies, in Pierceton, Ind.

Though he’s been working there since he was 10, Steven is not the most senior employee. His mother, E. Marie Trump, still comes to work every day, taking the walk to work from her home next door.

Northern Gases & Supplies has updated plants and equipment over the years, Steven says, and the market has changed. While many welding shops have closed up over the decades, the region has turned into a center for the orthopedic industry. That has brought manufacturers as well as small companies that supply them. Steven says gases are fundamental to creating the high-tech orthopedics that are allowing surgeons to replace everything from hips and shoulders to elbows.

To adopt to changes in the way things are welded — more and more by automation — Northern Gases has moved deeper into bulk gas, buying and installing equipment for customers, he adds.

While it has been keeping up with changes, Steven says the company is not interested in growth at any cost. It sold off its third and most distant branch to stay focused on the market it has in Pierceton and Warsaw, Ind.

CK Worldwide

Back in 1967, what is today CK Worldwide was Conley & Kleppen. “We saw the way torches were being made and thought to ourselves, we can do this better,” says Art Kleppen, owner and founder of the Auburn, Wash., company.

CK is marking its 50th anniversary in 2017 by making a $50,000 donation to the American Welding Society Foundation. Matched dollar for dollar, the donation will create two annual TIG welding scholarships. These $2,500 scholarships will be awarded to two individual students, every year.

“CK Worldwide hopes that these scholarships open new doors for students and allows for continued growth within the welding community,” the company says in a statement.

The company highlights its innovations on its webpage with video introductions to product changes as well as demonstrations of how they work.

The company’s management team

CK Worldwide is turning 50 this year. The company’s management team includes, from left, Jeff Sharpe, president; Aaron Walsberg, vice president of operations; Art Kleppen, owner and founder; Dave Cummins, vice president and finance director; Bonnie Sims, corporate secretary/treasurer and Mike Meyer, vice president of sales and marketing. Photo courtesy of CK Worldwide.

Flexovit USA

“Since making our first grinding wheel in July 1977, Flexovit has followed a course of continuous quality improvement and manufacturing innovation,” says Pierre Hawkins, director of sales and marketing. “This year we are proudly putting the finishing touches on one of the most advanced grinding wheel plants anywhere in the world, right here in the United States.”

In 1995 Flexovit was the first American grinding wheel manufacturer to achieve ISO Quality Certification, and is currently working towards the latest ISO 9001 standard, he adds.

The company manufactures abrasive grinding and cutting wheels in the United States and markets an array of coated abrasives, non-woven abrasives, carbide burs, wire brushes, and construction diamond blades. Flexovit operates four distribution centers in the United States, Canada and Mexico, offering same-day delivery to authorized distributors throughout North America.

“Flexovit has overcome its share of challenges, including the collapse of the manufacturing facility caused by a record snowfall in 2014,” notes Hawkins. As to the future, he conveys, “Flexovit is very confident that that the combination of continuous quality and process improvement, a focus on the customer as partner, and the diligence of our exceptional workforce will result in growth for years to come, right here in Western New York State.”

Flexovit  old vs new

Top: Flexovit marks its 40th anniversary this year. Here’s how its facility appeared in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Flexovit USA.

Bottom: Flexovit USA’s current manufacturing facility and headquarters in Angola, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Flexovit USA.

New Braunfels Welders Supply, Inc.

Richard Smith knows customer service is what has kept New Braunfels Welders Supply going for 30 years. The operations manager has been there since the start. He says customers tell him how important service is to them and to his New Braunfels, Texas, company’s success.

“They will say, ‘we won’t go anywhere else because you treat us right,’” Smith adds.

Technology has changed certain aspects of the business, particularly communications and equipment, he says. It has changed the way welders are taught and trained too. Training welders is something New Braunfels Welders used to do and plans to do again.

The company also is getting ready to move to a new facility, a stone’s throw from its current site. That should be ready within six months. After that, Smith says, the company plans to add bulk gases.

The expansion comes as parts of the oil and gases industry are still struggling with low prices. That hasn’t been a big hindrance to New Braunfels Welders, Smith says. While many pursue oil industry business, “we’ll take care of the people around here, the people who everybody else forgets about because they are busy chasing the oil people.”

Syoxsa

Few businesses have seen as much change in the past few years as Syoxsa, an El Paso, Texas, distributor that is marking its 30th anniversary in 2017.

Syoxsa President German Trejo explains that the company once served Fortune 500 manufacturers operations in Juarez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. It was a large market with few competitors. Syoxsa had five facilities in Mexico, stretching from Chihuahua to Hermosillo to Juarez.

However, in 2010, one of those competitors made an offer for Syoxsa’s Mexican assets. Not part of that offer was Syoxsa’s single facility in El Paso, which Trejo says ended up being a good business decision.

With a single deal, Syoxsa changed from a Mexican company serving large international corporations to an American operation serving a competitive regional market for gases and welding supplies. Trejo estimates the El Paso market is about a third as large as the Juarez market. The sale of Mexican assets left Syoxsa with an outsized transportation fleet that Trejo hopes to use to expand the company regionally, staying on the U.S. side of the border.

“You need to have a clear vision,” Trejo says of how Syoxsa managed such a dramatic transition. “There is more of a service market on this side. We are learning how to sell to federal and local government agencies.”

Syoxsa, in El Paso, Texas

Above: Syoxsa, in El Paso, Texas, marks its 30th anniversary this year. Photo courtesy of Syoxsa.

Transportation Truck

Above: Syoxsa once included facilities in Mexico. Today the distributor is only in the United States, but includes some transportation assets from when it was larger. Photo courtesy of Syoxsa.

WDPG/ A Horton Group Partner

In 1987, when WDPG began offering insurance to members of the welding and gases industry, things were done a bit differently, says Kenneth Tidwell, senior vice president at the Horton Group and WDPG national marketing director. 

“Empty cylinders used to be rolled,” Tidwell explains, adding that sometimes cylinders were carried fireman-style off the back of trucks. Thanks to changing practices, “it’s much safer from a workers’ compensation standpoint.”

Who makes what has changed as well. While there are fewer makers of acetylene today, Tidwell says, there are many more makers of hydrogen and specialty gases. Insurance has had to keep up with those changes, and create conditions that make them possible. “Working with Royal Insurance, we created the escaped gas endorsement in 1993,” he says, noting the endorsement allowed welding supply distributors to fill a coverage gap not previously covered.

Tidwell sees cyber liability as a focus in the future as well as employment practices liability coverage. “You wouldn’t drive a truck without insurance, why hire and fire people without it?” he asks.

WDPG’ board meeting photo

WDPG’s first formal board meeting in 1993 included, from left, Ray Puryear, president of Southern Welding Supply, Birmingham, Ala.; Jim Robertson, president of Industrial Oxygen, Dallas, Texas; Larry Kennedy, owner, Red Ball Oxygen, Shreveport, La.; Jim Terence, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Ken Tidwell, program director, Nashville, Tenn.

American Cylinder Gas

American Cylinder Gas Vice President Kevin Heckel remembers well his father’s words and credits the company’s reaching its 25th anniversary to those insights. “He always said to treat our customers like family,” Heckel reports.

That customer-centric focus has led to strong relationships for the Butler, Wisc., company. American Cylinder Gas’s six employees interface not only at the store counter or even at golf outings, they also attend their children’s graduations, Heckel explains. “We actually build relationships.”

The company has been adding technology to free up more time to provide customers with service. That’s something Heckel thinks is providing a bright outlook for the business. “For a lot of customers, it’s not just about price,” he says. That’s an attitude that some thought faded when the economy was struggling. But now, particularly among small- and medium-sized businesses, Heckel feels that is “something that is coming back.”

The company has also benefited from joining a buying group and abiding by another of his father’s sayings: “Keep busy; start by learning from your mistakes.”

Amwins

The insurance market for gases and welding supply distributors has had some ups and downs in the 25 years through which AmWINS traces its roots. Nevertheless, the program underwriter has been a constant, says Managing Director Bill McCloy. “People jump in and out the marketplace. We’ve never done that. We’ve always been there.”

The company’s structure has changed across the quarter century, though. Until 2003, the business worked for an international insurance carrier. When that carrier abandoned the U.S. market in 2003, AmWINS changed its business plan and became an independent wholesaler representing a carrier, rather than working for the carrier. “We solved that crisis,” McCloy says. “Most of our clients came with us.”

Today, AmWINS is the largest insurance wholesale distributor in the United States, he says. The challenge for the program underwriter is the one that so many in GAWDA recognize: consolidation. With clients from the largest regional distributors to mom-and-pop operations with two trucks, McCloy says that some accounts disappear when the distributor is purchased by a larger company. Despite that, he says, “we’ve been able to sustain a viable program.”

Catalina Cylinders

For Catalina Cylinders, in Garden Grove, Calif., 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the purchasing of the company by Philip S. Keeler and his company, Aluminum Precision Products. In 2009, Catalina adopted an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), and the company ownership has been gradually transitioning from the Keeler family to Catalina’s employees.

Catalina Cylinders Building

Catalina Cylinders marks its 25th anniversary this year. The company recently built a 107,000 square-foot facility for composite-wrapped cylinders.

David Silva, Catalina’s vice president of sales and marketing, says a corporate culture of putting customers first has helped the company reach the quarter-century mark. That culture has contributed to having zero catastrophic failures of a cylinder due to material or workmanship and, he adds, has meant reinvesting 76 percent of profits into the business.

Those investments have allowed the company to expand capabilities and adapt new automation technology, including a new composites facility to broaden the company’s capabilities, adds Silva.

Automation has enabled Catalina to reach unprecedented levels of quality and consistency, he says. “This has made a big difference for our specialty gas cylinders in recent years, because we can control the internal surface roughness and cleanliness of these cylinders like never before.” He expects that plant, and processes that improve the internal surface stability of cylinders, to play an important role in the company’s future.

Catalina expects to see rising demand for larger, higher pressure, lighter-weight cylinders, “because these product characteristics drive efficiency and cost savings for our customers,” Silva says. That’s why the company built a new 107,000 square-foot facility dedicated to composite-wrapped cylinders.

H-Town Oxygen

Some GAWDA members have to check records to be sure when their business started. Not Bill Carper. He started H-Town Oxygen, in Houston, Texas, on his 30th birthday, back in 1997.

With seven employees, H-Town is largely focused on the oil industry in Houston, Texas, and that work is driven by offshore drilling, Carper explains. That business dynamic has been problematic because lower oil prices and the reinvigoration of land-based oil fields have made offshore drilling much less appealing.

“The oil market has just cratered here. Right now we are going through the most difficult year we’ve ever had,” he adds. The company has pushed into other parts of the industry looking for sales, but so has the competition. “Everyone is chasing after the few remaining customers,” he notes.

“It’s going to get better. It’s just a matter of time.”
-Bill Carper, president
H-Town Oxygen Company

But, Carper is no pessimist. “It’s going to get better. It’s just a matter of time,” he declares, noting that jobs in Houston are starting to rebound after a flat 2015 and weak 2016. The second half of 2017 is expected to see 15,000 to 20,000 oil and gas industry jobs coming back, he adds. That situation offers hope. “We do have a nice opportunity, since there are so few independents left,” Carper says.

High Plains Gas & Supply

Co-owners Shannon Lind, Steve Unrein and Gene Neugebauer, of High Plains Gas & Supply in Englewood, Colo., are agreed: Their five-year-old business survives and thrives because of the service they and the rest of their 15 employees provide.

“It’s kind of a dying art form for some of our larger competitors, so we get a lot of loyalty and a lot of new customers based on our service level,” says Lind. That service includes getting orders out on a timely basis, returning phone calls and having in stock what customers want.

The company has rapidly spun up capability to meet customer demand, the three explain. The firm offers bulk cryogenic and argon and nitrogen gases and pumps nitrogen and argon at high pressures.

“Our philosophy has always been, keep it simple and do the basic things right and your company will grow,” Unrein says.

While 2016 was a good year, growth was not the 20-plus percent that the co-owners anticipate for 2017. “We’re pretty excited,” he says.

A picture of High Plains Gas & Supply and the three owners

Five-year-old High Plains Gas & Supply has three owners, from left, Shannon Lind, Steve Unrein and Gene Neugebauer. They project better than 20 percent growth in 2017. Photo courtesy of High Plains Gas & Supply.

Primary Gas Solutions

Pat Ludwig started Primary Gas Solutions in Orange, Calif., with his wife, Wendy Ludwig, five years ago.

Things are going pretty well, he reports. “We’re chugging along.” The company’s primary focus is on high-purity gases for use in research and in environmental laboratories, he says. “Our customers have been very loyal. I think a lot of these small businesses enjoy doing business with other small businesses.”

Word of mouth has brought calls from new customers and potential customers beyond the base that also includes universities and others who need high-purity gases.

“We have gotten into some businesses that do laser cutting, so they’ll use laser mixtures and liquids,” Pat adds. Now, the company is getting inquiries from other industrial customers that want to talk with Primary about becoming a supplier. Pat says that, all in all, the future is looking pretty good for the company.

A Picture of Wendy and Pat Ludwig

Wendy and Pat Ludwig started Primary Gas Solutions in Orange, Calif., five years ago.