At 1510 N. Davis Ave., a man dressed in a space suit sprays a special powder coat of John Deere paint on parts to an agriculture sprayer.
Other employees assemble slides for a water park.
It’s part of the multifaceted work being completed by the nearly 50 workers employed at Ernest-Spencer Custom Coatings in Ottawa’s industrial park.
The 50,000-square-foot plant is one of seven companies that operate under the Ernest-Spencer Companies umbrella.
Neal Spencer, fourth generation president and chief executive officer of Ernest-Spencer, talked about his Ottawa plant’s opportunities for expansion during the First Friday Forum at Washburn Towers, 526 S. Main St., Ottawa.
“Our company is growing, and we’re excited about our opportunities to expand in Ottawa in the future,” Spencer said. “We have 7 acres of land that could be developed.”
Ed York, marketing manager for Arvest Bank, said he first met Spencer after he learned of the company’s role in producing the new Skunk Run bridge in city park earlier this year. Ernest-Spencer Custom Coating protected the bridge with a special powder coat paint.
“That paint should last for years,” Spencer said.
Spencer said his great-grandfather started Ernest-Spencer in 1922 in Topeka, and it has survived for 85 years through wars, depressions and other challenges by being innovative and treating its employees like family.
The company now has more than 200 employees and expects to generate about $40 million to $50 million in revenue this year, Spencer said.
“I want to create jobs that people want to be at,” Spencer, a 2000 graduate of Kansas State University with a business management degree, said. “With good pay, good benefits and a clean and safe environment.”
The family-run business has maintained a long-standing policy of treating employees the way his family would want to be treated, Spencer said.
“My 89-year-old grandfather still comes to the office every Monday,” he said.
The original company specializes in building grain elevators and feed mills — but has branched into several companies that produce everything from air boats to biomass renewable fuels to help coal-fired plants burn cleaner fuel.
Spencer showed several slides during his presentation of his company’s steel work — from a 90,000-head state-of-the-art feed yard in Hartley, Texas, to components for an ethanol plant in Lyons, Kan., to a soil reclamation plant in Romania.
“If it’s made of metal, we can make it,” Spencer said.
Ernest-Spencer even owns an art gallery in the North Topeka art district.
Spencer’s companies also produce such stainless steel products as kitchen back splashes and counter tops. Spencer said Ernest-Spencer, which is a certified green company, also recently received its collegiate license to produce stainless steel items like coasters with logos from K-State, the universities of Kansas and Missouri and other teams.
“I’m a K-State graduate, but I’m not opposed to making Jayhawks,” Spencer said. “I just want them to know that any money we make off Jayhawks is going back to Manhattan.”
Spencer said his company is in negotiations for a deal that could be worth about $100 million, though he didn’t provide details.
“It could be good for Ottawa,” he said.
Spencer said he likes having a plant in Ottawa and values the community.
Arvest Bank’s York said Spenser was the kind of CEO that gets things done because he is an innovator who creates jobs.
“He’s the kind of guy this country needs to get us out of this [sluggish economy],” York said. “If we can just get out of his road.”
Doug Carder is senior writer at The Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org