Winner’s Circle 2016: West Virginia Manufacturing

June 2, 2016


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Winner’s  Circle 2016: West Virginia Manufacturing

Manufacturing is a lifeline for a struggling economy. It creates wealth and prosperity, leads to economic growth and global trade, encourages development and creativity and creates job opportunities across industries—after all, without goods, there can be no services.

As West Virginia manufacturers continue to succeed, outsiders are noticing the benefits of locating in the Mountain State. West Virginia is within a day’s drive of half of the United States population; provides access to waterways, railways and highways, making the delivery of goods easy and economical; affords access to an impressive supply of natural resources and boasts a historically hardworking, genuine work force.

West Virginia Executive is proud to bring back our Winner’s Circle in this issue as a means of recognizing the companies in our state that have found success beyond our state lines. Many of the companies chosen for Winner’s Circle were nominated by local chambers of commerce or other businesses. To be considered, they must have a headquarters or manufacturing facility in the state and distribute products outside of West Virginia.

In previous editions of the Winner’s Circle, we have highlighted companies from across the state’s many industries. As West Virginia leaders work to bring more manufacturers to the Mountain State, in this issue we want to celebrate those that are already here, providing jobs and reminding the rest of the world of the state’s most precious asset—its people. These amazing manufacturers are demonstrating that West Virginia companies can produce high-quality products on site and ship out of state and around the world.

Welcome to our 2016 Winner’s Circle: the Manufacturing Edition.

Appalachian Wood Pellets

By Dawn Nolan

An extension of Allegheny Wood Products, Appalachian Wood Pellets recycles the waste from its sister company’s nine lumber mills to produce an environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral and cost-efficient energy alternative. Bark, wood chips and sawdust are used in the process, making Appalachian Wood Pellets’ processes efficient while keeping the consumers’ costs down.

“We utilize Allegheny Wood Products’ waste products to make residential heat sources,” says Don Wagner, Appalachian Wood Pellets’ general manager. “Every ton of pellets replaces three barrels of oil. Appalachian forests regenerate at a rate of 2.45 new trees for every tree that is harvested, making our pellets a sustainable and renewable resource.”

To make the pellets, the wood chips and sawdust from Allegheny Wood Products are transferred to the manufacturing facility, located in Kingwood, WV, by conveyor belts, where they are put into storage silos. The chips feed into a rotary drum dryer, which is fueled by bark waste, ensuring that none of the materials from the lumber mills are wasted. Once dried, the chips are transferred to a hammer mill where they are crushed into sawdust. The sawdust is sent to a pellet mill, where the mixture is compressed into pellet form. The pellets are then conveyed into the pellet cooler, and the finished pellets are checked for consistency, bagged in 40-pound bags and loaded onto trucks.

Allegheny Wood Products has mills across West Virginia in Kingwood, Hazelton, Petersburg, Princeton, Beckley, Smoot, Norton, Riverton and Cowen, as well as one in Marble, PA. According to Wagner, the strong presence in the Mountain State is attributed to West Virginia’s access to an abundance of quality timber. The Kingwood lumber mill was chosen as the site of Appalachian Wood Pellets in 2011 because it is the company’s largest mill, providing plentiful wood waste for pellet manufacturing.

Now in its fifth year, Appalachian Wood Pellets has the capacity to produce 60,000 tons of pellets annually. Distribution of this clean-burning, renewable, home-heating alternative is nationwide, with the bulk being sold in the Mid-Atlantic region and New England.

Blenko Glass Company

By Katlin Swisher

West Virginia’s natural resources are what attracted William Blenko to settle his glass company in Milton, WV, in the early 1920s. Bringing his childhood craft to the U.S. in 1893 in the midst of economic downturn, Blenko tried three other locations before finding West Virginia’s available and affordable fuel and sand, conveniently located transportation system and skilled work force—the ideal setting for glass manufacturing that has endured for more than 100 years.

Today, Blenko Glass Company’s handmade products—from practical tableware and gifts to architectural and antique glass—serve consumers all over the world.

“Our products are special because we still make glass the way it was made in the 1600s—by hand,” says Dean Six, Blenko’s vice president of marketing and sales. “It is difficult to find products that are made in America, made in West Virginia and made by hand. We are invested in the quality, and we are dedicated to maintaining this skill and keeping the product and tradition alive.”

The 1,000-year-old tradition is the epitome of teamwork—all workers are trained on the job. Employees are divided into six groups, called shops. Each shop is responsible for an element of the glassblowing: gathering the glass and marveling it on a metal plate; thumbing out, or trapping air in the glass through a blowpipe; shaping the glass and inserting it into a constantly moving mold and, finally, cooling and centering it.

The color selection also makes Blenko’s glass unique. Historically, Blenko’s glassmakers have created commercial glass in more than 1,000 different colors.

Whether it is Blenko’s events, tours, lectures or group visits for team building purposes, Six says Blenko Glass Company is always looking for ways to connect with people who are not traditional glass lovers.

Every year, Blenko’s glassmakers create a limited edition commemorative piece for West Virginia Day to celebrate the state’s history, culture and traditions. The quantity of pieces made increases by one each year to represent West Virginia’s age, which will mark 153 years on June 20. The pieces will be available at Blenko’s West Virginia Day Celebration June 17-18.

Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC

By Katie Allie

As one of several branches throughout the U.S. and Europe, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood stands out among its counterparts. This facility is home to some of the most advanced casting equipment in the global aluminum industry and ships to 22 countries. It is also one of the world’s largest rolled products facilities, employing more than 1,000 West Virginians as one of the state’s top 50 employers and the largest employer in Jackson County. With casting, hot mill, cold mill and plate shop capabilities, Constellium’s Ravenswood facility produces customized aluminum parts for everything from fighter jets to armor plating to dump truck beds.

“We produce plate, sheet and coil products for aerospace, defense, transportation, marine and other industrial use, and we are especially well-known for our plate shop, a leading center in the industry,” says Lloyd “Buddy” Stemple, CEO of the facility. “With the world’s largest stretcher, closely coupled with the heat treatment furnaces, we have production capabilities not found anywhere else in the industry.”

Dyna-Mix Custom Rubber Mixing

By Katie Allie

What began with the production of tire flaps has since grown into a full-scale custom rubber mixing and compound development facility. Under parent company Rex-Hyde, LLC, Dyna-Mix Custom Rubber Mixing was established in 1987 in Grafton, WV, to meet the growing needs for customized industrial rubber products.

Today, Dyna-Mix helps businesses in diverse industries like automotive, wire and cable, oil and gas, mining and belting, construction and extrusion develop rubber compounds that become the nuts and bolts of their day-to-day operations. The manufacturer strives to streamline the rubber compounds development process while also offering consulting services and technical staff.

One element that allows for success is Dyna-Mix’s location, especially in terms of logistics. “We ship products all around the world, but the vast majority goes east of the Mississippi,” says James Reszler, company president.

Add prime location to the employees’ loyalty and hard work, and Dyna-Mix has a recipe for success, the end product of which is shipped out in the form of custom-mixed rubber products to customers all over the U.S., Mexico and China.


By Katie Allie

Founded in 1984, Gurkee’s is known for its unique, high-quality sandals made from polypropylene fibers—the same material found in carpet—that are twisted into smooth, comfortable rope footwear. The shoes come in almost every color of the rainbow, and they’re 100 percent West Virginia made from straps to soles. Durable and long-lasting, they weigh in at ounces instead of pounds and have a long-time, raving fan base stretching all over the world.

In 2009, Ray Sickles of Cheat Lake purchased the company, becoming the third owner of Gurkee’s, and that’s when things really started moving. The sandals were being manufactured at Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez jail, where Sickles immediately encountered extremely bad dealings with his Mexican manufacturer, forcing him to take action. Sickles had always intended for the company to be 100 percent American-made, and after that incident, he was presented with the perfect opportunity to make good on those wishes. He quickly moved operations from Mexico to Cheat Lake and began developing equipment and tools so he could begin manufacturing in 2011.

In West Virginia, Gurkee’s has had the chance to spread its creative wings. Made of yarn purchased from manufacturers in the Southeastern United States, Gurkee’s makes eight different styles of sandals in addition to belts, bracelets, keychains and pet leashes. The company ships domestically and globally, with wholesale orders going out to at least 15 different countries.

When asked what he loves about doing business in West Virginia, Sickles is notably verbose, a clear indication of his passion. “By manufacturing in West Virginia, I have the opportunity to provide additional jobs, teach local artisans an art and skill where they can work with their hands and truly be part of creating a product that is touching the lives of people around the world,” he says. “It is also exciting to know first-hand that hundreds of thousands of dollars that were being spent on Mexican manufacturing are now retained and kept right here in Morgantown.”

Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A., Inc.

By Dawn Nolan

At Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A., Inc. in Williamstown, WV, it takes workers less than 100 minutes to build a Class 6 or Class 7 medium-duty commercial truck and get it ready for the road.

Hino, a subsidiary of Hino Motors, LTD. and Toyota Group Company, was the first vehicle assembly facility in the state and began production in 2007 with a capacity of 10 trucks per shift. A new truck model was introduced in 2010, and in August 2011, the plant produced its 10,000th vehicle. Through significant investment and expansion, the shift capacity has grown to 49 trucks, and the West Virginia plant will produce number 50,000 in 2016.

From a truck’s frame rails all the way to the vehicle identification label, Hino uses a standardized assembly line process that is composed of 19 different stations for fabrication and quality control. Assembly alone takes approximately 90 minutes and includes 11 stations. Due to the efficiency of this process, the company can now manufacture 12,000 units annually on one shift.

Once built, the trucks can be equipped with boxes or refrigeration units or utilized as wreckers or utility vehicles, though the box truck is the most common. The vehicles are then sold through Hino’s sister company, Hino Motor Sales U.S.A., to customers across the country. Hino has had contracts with Penske Truck Leasing, Dunkin Donuts and Coors Brewing Company, just to name a few. Hino has also provided fleets for the Wood County Development Authority and West Virginia Department of Transportation Division of Highways.

Steve Stalnaker, vice president and plant manager, credits a strong work force and a positive relationship with the state and local government to Hino’s success in Williamstown.

“When customers visit our plant, they always state how impressed they are with the focus and dedication they observe in our team members performing the process,” he says. “This is one main contributor to the quality advantage our trucks have in the marketplace.”

Ensuring Mission Success: Aerospace in WV

By Samantha Cart

Companies that research, design, manufacture, operate or maintain aircraft and spacecraft are flourishing in West Virginia. The Mountain State is proving to be an advantageous location for the aerospace industry, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the state’s economy. According to the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the low labor and utility costs coupled with the state’s experienced industry workers and available raw materials are translating into high profitability for aerospace companies.

Add to that the easy access to national defense contractors, corporations, federal and state governments and industrial customers and suppliers as well as West Virginia’s aircraft valuation business tax, and it’s no wonder these aerospace manufacturers are happy to call the Mountain State home.


Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation

A leader in the development and manufacturing of advanced unmanned systems and aerospace technologies, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation has played a large role in North Central West Virginia’s aerospace industry for more than 20 years.

The Bridgeport location, which employs 120 people, is a tier-1 provider of advanced composite parts and structures for the aerospace industry. It ships ready-to-install parts to customers across the country, who then utilize the finished products all over the world in the form of 525 Relentless, Global Hawk, G500 and CH-53K King Stallion aircraft.

“Aurora not only has the ability to manufacture cutting-edge aircraft and components, but we employ a full staff of engineers who design and develop advanced aircraft as well,” says Eric Thompson, general manager of the Bridgeport facility.

Aurora also partners with Bridgeport institutions to support and develop STEM initiatives and works with its peers to find unique methods for work force development in order to keep people gainfully employed.


Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics opened its manufacturing facility in Clarksburg, WV, in 1962. The company’s renowned research in the areas of combat, air mobility, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft have led to it becoming a front-runner in the aerospace industry.

Lockheed Martin’s Clarksburg facility manufactures assemblies for the C-130J Super Hercules, one of the world’s most advanced tactical airlifters, and the parts are then sent to Marietta, GA, where the aircraft are assembled. Built for agility and performance, the Super Hercules is often sent to rugged environments to provide humanitarian relief after natural disasters, which makes its advanced landing capabilities essential. It can operate out of high mountain ranges and transport more than 40,000 pounds of cargo and supplies at a time. This aircraft model is used by 16 countries across the globe and has been used to set 54 world records.

Lockheed Martin employs around 90 people at its Mountain State facility and creates approximately $8 million in payroll, supplies and utilities for the city of Clarksburg.


UTC Aerospace Systems

As one of the world’s largest suppliers of aerospace products, UTC Aerospace Systems designs, manufactures and services systems and parts for a variety of aircraft, helicopters and international space programs. UTC has 150 sites operating in 26 countries, including a Sensors & Integrated Systems (UTAS-SIS) site in Union, WV.

Since 1972, UTAS-SIS has been manufacturing key products and systems, including propeller de-icers, potable water systems, silicone heaters, pneumatic de-icers, specialty heated products and electro-thermal products. As one of nine key Sensors & Integrated Systems sites, the Union facility ships products worldwide.

This UTC site originated as an economic development project between the city of Union and Monroe County. UTC currently employs 379 of Union’s population of 600, making it the largest employer in the county.

A close partnership is still maintained between city and county officials and UTC. The most recent benefit of this relationship was the funding of the city’s water main and water storage tank system, which has an estimated completion date of early 2017.

Kingsford Manufacturing Company

By Dawn Nolan

Kingsford Manufacturing Company’s charcoal is a staple for many backyard barbeques. A big name in the grilling industry, Kingsford manufactures and sells more than a dozen products, including Original Charcoal, Match Light Charcoal and Professional Briquets, each of which are produced in the company’s Parsons, WV, plant.

“Our strategic location in Parsons/Tucker County puts us in the center of the wood basket of North Central West Virginia,” says Plant Manager Carey Preston. “There is a very strong presence in all aspects of the timber and lumber industry here.”

This abundance of wood plays a central role in the manufacturing of Kingsford’s charcoal briquets and related products.

“We consume about 320,000 tons of wood waste every year to produce wood char,” says Preston. “It’s a huge positive impact to the environment.”

The Parsons plant manufactures 120,000 tons of briquets annually. Most are shipped to the Northeast, but some go as far south as the Carolinas and as far north as Canada.

In addition to the company’s sites in Missouri, Oregon and Kentucky, Kingsford has two other facilities in West Virginia: a char producing facility in Beryl and a distribution center in Ridgeley. The Parsons location has been in operation for 58 years. Together, the three locations employ 113 West Virginians, which Preston believes is the key to the company’s success.

“What is most special to not only Parsons but Beryl and Ridgeley is the great work ethic we see from our people,” says Preston. “They are some of the hardest working folks I know. They take pride in producing a quality product, and they have real ownership of the business, the impact they have on our community and the environment.”

Mountaineer Fabricators, Inc.

By Samantha Cart

Mountaineer Fabricators, Inc. has been designing and manufacturing pressure vessels, prefabricated piping assemblies and modular skids since 1923. After changing hands from one family to another, the newly constructed Nitro, WV, location was opened by Bob Hammack, Jr., a former manager, in 2004.

Family-owned and operated, Mountaineer Fabricators’ staff grew to 75 employees last year. Many of the employees come from up to an hour away, which speaks to the company’s reputation. Mountaineer Fabricators boasts that its welders, machinists, engineers and managers have an average experience of more than 20 years.

The Nitro facility also houses an engineering department that creates complete design calculations so employees are able to handle even the toughest of projects with confidence and effectiveness.

The Nitro-based business, which ships its products across the nation, manufactures prefabricated piping assemblies, launchers, receivers and valve settings. These products are utilized by the power, chemical and oil and natural gas industries to reduce construction costs. This ASME-certified company also repairs pressure vessels, heat exchangers and pressure piping. Dedicated to remaining up-to-date with current technologies and requirements, Mountaineer Fabricators not only creates jobs and generates revenue but also promotes growth in other industries.

“It is good to have an industry that makes products that bolster future growth,” says Andrew Hammack, safety manager for Mountaineer Fabricators. “The pipe assemblies we make are used to create chemical plants that will employ others in the future and build more industry.”

A Taste of West Virginia

By Samantha Cart

Pepperoni rolls, hot dogs with slaw, homemade jams and jellies—the Mountain State is known for more than just country roads and coal mines. West Virginia has its own unique food culture, born from its rich history in agriculture. The state is also home to a variety of food product manufacturers that have developed brand loyalty in West Virginia and around the country.


Blue Smoke Salsa

Blue Smoke Salsa was born out of a backyard garden and a basement kitchen. Robin Hildebrand began making and selling jars of homemade salsa in 1992. She operated out of her home for five years before buying a vacant department store in Ansted to continue growing her business. In 2012, Blue Smoke Salsa was purchased by White House Foods, a huge step for the blossoming manufacturer.

“I think being purchased by White House Foods has been a big plus for us,” says Karen Koch, production lead at Blue Smoke Salsa. “It has definitely upped our production, which helps the local economy in Ansted.”

Fayette County visitors have a first-class view of the production process through the facility’s observation windows. Blue Smoke Salsa makes a variety of salsas, hot sauces and jellies with only seven employees. The company ships to all 50 states and occasionally internationally, particularly during the holiday season.


Custard Stand Food Products

Recently featured on the hit show “Shark Tank,” Dee and Angie Cowger formed Custard Stand Food Products in 2003 out of their existing restaurant chain, The Custard Stand, LLC. Customer demand inspired the Cowgers to go into the manufacturing business, and they converted the three-bay car wash behind their Webster Springs restaurant into a production facility.

Today, Custard Stand Food Products produces up to 7,000 pounds of chili and soup every day. The Cowgers’ chili can be found at Kroger, Sam’s Club, Walmart, IGA and Costco and is also served in the sports stadiums at Glenville State College and West Virginia University.

According to the Cowgers, sales have exploded since their appearance on the show. “Our online sales have skyrocketed,” says Dee. “We have shipped hundreds of orders to every state in the nation, and our wholesale and retail sales are up 55 percent.”


Smith Candies, LLC

After more than 50 years, Smith Candies, LLC continues to honor its founding principle of creating quality candy that will tempt anyone’s taste buds.

Originally Susan Kay Candies Inc. Manufacturing, Mike Smith purchased the St. Marys-based company in 1999. Susan Kay was known for its handmade lollipops, which were sold in amusement parks, restaurants and stores throughout the region. When the market began to change, Smith had to adapt. His company expanded its production to include homemade fudge and cotton candy, and in 2002, it added what has come to be its most successful product yet: cut rock candy.

“The cut rock candy became our main item out of necessity,” says Smith. “It’s been very good for us. We’re now moving 200,000 pounds per year in 20 different flavors.”

Today, Smith Candies ships its products to eight states. Even with only seven employees, it has a noticeable impact on the St. Marys community.


West Virginia Potato Chip Company

In 1951 on Mary Street in Parkersburg, Mister Bee Potato Chip Company founders Leo and Sara Klein would make fresh chips in the morning and distribute them that same afternoon to customers. Now under new ownership, located on West Virginia Avenue and renamed the West Virginia Potato Chip Company, the iconic Mister Bee brand continues to be enjoyed throughout the U.S.

According to Doug Klein, vice president of sales, the company is in the process of expanding its market by looking into new domestic and international trade options through the West Virginia Economic Development Authority as well as developing new products. “The West Virginia Potato Chip Company is a unique business, and people who have grown up eating the chips have developed a brand loyalty,” he says.

While big things are on the horizon, loyalists can still find the flavors they love: original, sour cream and onion, jalapeno, barbecue and honey barbecue.

Touchstone Research Laboratory, Ltd.

By Maggie Matsko

Located in Triadelphia, WV, Touchstone Research Laboratory, Ltd. is a company on the rise. Touchstone is known for manufacturing CFOAM, a lightweight, fire-resistant, impact-absorbing carbon foam made from coal. CFOAM is designed to meet growing demand for ultra-high performance engineering materials in the military, industrial, aerospace and commercial product markets and is shipped all around the world.

Touchstone Research Laboratory is also the home of Touchstone Advanced Composites, which makes the molds used to produce carbon fiber aircraft parts. Much of the development is centered on tools made of CFOAM. The composite tooling products are shipped mostly across the United States with the largest customers residing in California, Washington State, Kansas and Utah, although the company has expanded its shipments to Europe in recent years.

As the current president and CEO of Touchstone Research Laboratory, Brian Joseph has a strong connection with the location of his company’s headquarters, as he grew up nearby in Wheeling. He also takes great pride in the people of the Mountain State.

“The people of West Virginia are unique in their ability to make things,” he says. “I have also found them to be inventive. As a result, we have put out one patent application per month for the past 10 years.”

Over the past 36 years, Touchstone Research Laboratory has seen many successes through its expansion efforts. The parent company has developed four technologies that won R&D 100 Awards. “These are considered to be among the 100 most important technologies brought to market in the world each year,” says Joseph. “We have also won the top award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and we are three-time winners of the Tibbets Award, the top award in the Small Business Innovation Research Program community.”

As Touchstone Research Laboratory looks toward the future, it will soon be introducing MetPreg, a super-strong aluminum-based metal matrix composite material. The MetPreg technology was a natural outgrowth for the R&D company, and it will have broad applications for the aerospace, defense and commercial markets.

Warwood Tool Company

By Maggie Matsko

Since 1854, Warwood Tool Company has produced forged-steel hand tools, such as sledge hammers, picks, mattocks, hoes, leverage bars, pins and wedges. Today, the company’s headquarters stands in Wheeling with a stunning view of the Ohio River, but that hasn’t always been the main location.

Warwood Tool Company was founded in Martins Ferry, Ohio, by Henry Warwood as a coal mine and gardening tool supply company. As technology progressed, the company adapted to the growing need for tools for railway maintenance and construction, as well as the oil and gas industries, and established its home in Wheeling in 1903. Today, the company ships products all over the world, with the majority of them remaining in the U.S. or going to Canada.

With deep Mountaineer roots and support from the West Virginia Development Office, it’s no wonder why the company has remained in the Mountain State. “From a personal standpoint, West Virginia is our home,” says Phillip Carl, vice president of Warwood Tool Company. “From a business standpoint, one of the greatest connections we ever made was with the West Virginia Development Office. They have gone above and beyond in every way possible to connect us with companies, resources, trade shows, suppliers, export programs and product research. You name it, they’ll figure out a way to do it. They are amazing people and are the envy of all the businesses in other states that we brag to about them.”

At Warwood Tool Company, leadership is optimistic about the future. “We have broken into several new markets,” says Carl. “Traditionally, we serviced the coal mines and railway industry, but since coal isn’t a major product in this state anymore, we’ve had to get creative in how we pitch our product, what types of incentive deals we can build and who we pitch to. We now service major contractors in the crane and rigging industry, we are getting more into private label lines, and we will have purchased six new pieces of machinery by the end of this summer.”

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West Virginia Executive

(2) Readers Comments

  1. Tom Broach
    July 20, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    West Virginia Manufacturing Alloy should have been on the list. This plant is located in Fayette County employes over 200 people and every bit of its product leaves WV.

    • West Virginia Executive
      July 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Tom, Thank you for bringing this company to our attention! We do our best to identify the companies within West Virginia that fit the criteria for stories like this, and we reach out to the chambers of commerce and business leaders across the state for recommendations as well. It's hard for us to be aware of all the companies out there without the help of others. In this issue, we had limited space for this piece, which is why we couldn't profile more companies. We will definitely add them to the list for consideration for next time.

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