Winner’s Circle 2017
June 2, 2017|
According to Olympic Gold Medalist Summer Sanders, “To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It’s not about winning and losing; it’s about everyday hard work and about thriving on a challenge.”
Hard work and thriving under pressure are old hat to the many West Virginia businesses that have seen the changing tides of the state’s economy, industries and population. Despite these challenges, businesses in an array of industries continue to thrive in the Mountain State, whether they originated here or relocated to reap the benefits of being within a day’s drive of half the U.S. population; easy access to waterways, railways and highways; an abundance of natural resources; or a workforce with a reputation for integrity and hard work.
In conjunction with the energy and manufacturing issue, West Virginia Executive presents the fourth installment of Winner’s Circle, which originally appeared in the Spring 2007 issue, to highlight businesses in the Mountain State that are finding success in their home among the hills. Chosen from more than 150 nominations, these companies stand out as tried and true assets, providing jobs, contributing to their communities and proving West Virginia companies produce high-quality products enjoyed around the country and the world.
Welcome to our Winner’s Circle.
Allegheny Science & Technology
By Katlin Swisher
Founded in 2009, Allegheny Science & Technology (AST) is a management and technology solutions company that supports the federal government in both a prime contractor and first-tier subcontractor capacity.
An SBA 8(a) certified, woman-owned, small disadvantaged business headquartered in Bridgeport, WV, AST has a track record of success across a spectrum of technology management areas, including program and project management, software development and IT support, technology-based research and development, strategic planning and business process improvement.
As of January 2017, AST has won more than 25 prime contracts with various federal agencies and supported more than 20 contracts as a subcontractor.
“I think the key to sustaining and growing a business is adaptability,” says Arria Hines, president and CEO of AST. “The markets are always changing, government budgets are volatile and, as a small business, you have to be able to adapt quickly to change. When you own a business, you always want to focus on growth. However, there are times you have to make adjustments that do not take you forward but will allow you to sustain until the next opportunity to grow comes along.”
AST currently has more than 245 employees located across the U.S. In addition to its headquarters in Bridgeport, the company operates regional offices in Washington, D.C.; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Germantown, MD; Herndon, VA; and Tysons, VA.
“The uniqueness of AST is in the people—we have the brightest and best employees,” says Hines. “The AST team is committed to providing the best solutions and best value to their clients’ missions. The business operations staff is the foundation of AST, and the staff working directly on contracts are providing frontline expertise to clients.”
AST employs 60 individuals in West Virginia, most of whom are software developers.
“Many of the key people who helped get AST off the ground and have been in lockstep with me along the way grew up in West Virginia within 25 miles of each other,” says Hines. “The honesty and sincere passion everyone shares has built the successful business AST is today.”
Appalachian Log Structures
By Blair Dowler
In 1978, Fletcher Parsons, a pioneer in the wood preservation industry, answered the need for refined, durable quality and the unique construction of log structures for housing and commercial use by establishing Appalachian Log Structures.
The company, with 22 employees between the corporate headquarters in Ripley, WV, and the manufacturing facility in Princeton, WV, manufactures log home kits, as well as maintenance products, siding and railing. Dedicated to beautiful craftsmanship, Appalachian Log ships 60-70 percent of its products out of state and exports to countries like Mexico, Canada, Japan and Australia.
The company is strategically situated in the Appalachian Mountain range, where Eastern White Pine trees grow naturally and abundantly. The family-owned and operated business uses timber from these trees harvested along the West Virginia-Virginia border.
In addition to strong West Virginia roots, there’s something else that separates Appalachian Log Structures from the rest of the industry: it pressure treats its products with wood preservatives made with borate, a natural mineral that protects wood from water and insect damage, giving it longer-lasting capabilities.
By Alicia Elkin
CMI Corporation prides itself on creating high-quality products and bringing jobs to the Mountain State. After several ownership changes and headquarter moves, the company found its home in Franklin, WV, where it focuses on enhancing its designing, manufacturing and selling of rock climbing hardware.
For 12 years, CMI operated out of CEO Ronald Kirk Jr.’s West Virginia home basement until it erected its original building in 1990, which has expanded seven times and grown to over 30,000 square feet. CMI has increased from $80,000 in sales per year to more than $3 million, and it now employs 22 West Virginians.
“When I began designing our product line, my sons were young, and I took them climbing with me,” says Kirk. “I designed our products from the standpoint that I would hang my own sons’ lives on them.”
Over the past 53 years, CMI’s products have evolved from strictly rock climbing hardware to rope-related safety hardware. CMI’s products can be found in fire departments; hospitals, where they are used for therapeutic apparatus adjustment; and the zip line industry. These West Virginia-made products were also utilized during 9/11 relief efforts.
Appalachian Railcar Services
By Blair Dowler
Established in 2000, Appalachian Railcar Services (ARS) is a dynamic and growing rail services organization serving customers throughout the country. Its services include railcar maintenance, mobile repair, track repair, railcar storage, coal loading and unloading, plant switching, short line operation and trucking services.
Founded by Kurt and Trina Higginbotham, the idea for ARS stemmed from Kurt’s 15 years of experience with railcars, a love for his home state of West Virginia and the dream of owning his own business.
“For me, the key thing was that I felt like I could do this work just as well as the other railcar companies and give the work more attention,” Kurt, the president and CEO, says of the decision to start ARS. “I felt I could focus on our customers better than the people I worked for.”
ARS, which was built on the determination to do the job right, began as a two-person operation with an office in St. Albans, WV. Today, with corporate headquarters in Eleanor, WV, and approximately 600 employees, ARS operates in multiple locations across 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Facilities in each of these locations vary between full-service locations, private accounts and mobile service units ready for jobs in short order. ARS can service every type of railroad car, including general freight, box, coal and tank cars.
“We grew ARS from a little mom-and-pop company to a national footprint,” says Kurt. “We never dreamed we would get to this level. We started out moving coal on a little short line for Kanawha Eagle Coal with just the two of us, and it exploded after that. Our employees are the key to our success. It’s a team effort, and we have always strived to take care of our employees and our customers. Everything else kind of falls in place.”
Diamond Electric Mfg. Corp.
By Maggie Matsko
With corporate headquarters in both Japan and West Virginia, Diamond Electric Mfg. Corp. is a tier one supplier of automotive electrical components. Originally established in Japan in 1937, the manufacturer began as an automobile ignition coil manufacturer, branching out into the production of electronic ignition devices in 1971.
In 2014, Diamond Electric’s U.S. corporate offices were moved from Dundee, MI, to Eleanor, WV, where the manufacturing plant produces more than 15 million ignition coils annually for customers that include Toyota, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Subaru. There are three sales offices located in the U.S.: Ann Arbor, MI; Novi, MI; and Katy, Texas.
In addition to Diamond Electric’s Japanese and American offices, the company’s international footprint includes manufacturing plants and sales offices in Hungary, China, India and Thailand with additional sales offices in Indonesia and Korea.
Diamond Electric currently employs more than 300 people in the U.S., and Chad Carte, vice president and general manager of human resources and administration in Eleanor, believes the company’s greatest successes are the people they hire. “It’s the commitment to safety and quality from our employees that allows us to continue to offer jobs in West Virginia,” he says. “Since the automotive market is extremely competitive, it may be cheaper to produce products elsewhere in the world, but the people of West Virginia have made us feel like the Mountain State is our second home.”
Looking to the future, Diamond Electric hopes to expand in the area of home electronics. The company currently manufactures HVAC components for customers in Japan, and they are aggressively pursuing other business opportunities in the U.S. For Japan and other European countries, homes and businesses are heated and cooled room by room. This method has proven to be a more cost-effective and eco-friendly process, and Diamond Electric wants to be there to support the customer base during this transition.
Energy Corporation of America
By Maggie Matsko
Energy Corporation of America (ECA) has proven to be a strong contender as an oil and natural gas exploration and production company. With the support of approximately 170 employees, ECA explores, extracts, produces and transports oil and natural gas throughout the U.S. and around the world. With headquarters located in Charleston, WV, the company has offices situated in Buckhannon, WV; Greene County, PA; and Indiana, PA. It also has operations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, New York, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas and manages an international footprint that includes New Zealand and China.
Due to the strong growth ECA has experienced over the years, Kyle Mork, CEO, has a strong belief that the company’s greatest success is the people behind the scenes. “Without a doubt, I am most proud of the team we have assembled at ECA,” he says. “This group ushered ECA into the shale gas era and navigated the company’s transition from a shallow-well, conventional operator to an adept, unconventional developer. Simultaneously, they launched horizontal drilling at ECA, which established the company as one of the best horizontal shale developers in the world.”
This great success all began with Kyle’s grandfather, Roy Mork, who drilled the company’s first well in 1963 at a site in Glenville, WV, and formed Pacific States Gas & Oil, which is now known as ECA. The torch was then passed to John Mork, Kyle’s father, who, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, built ECA into a dominating player within the market.
In 2016, Kyle took up this tremendous family legacy by becoming CEO, and he is optimistic about the company’s future. “The Marcellus Shale was just the beginning, and I only see great potential for ECA with future exploration of the Utica Shale, the Rogersville Shale and other untapped areas,” he says. “While the last two years have seen the longest and deepest downturn our industry has experienced in decades, the future is very bright for ECA and the energy industry as a whole.”
Green Bank Observatory
By Jean Hardiman
Located in a radio-quiet mountain valley in Pocahontas County, the Green Bank Observatory is an astronomy research facility and education center that serves as the home to eight radio telescopes, including the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest, fully steerable radio telescope.
The observatory was founded in 1956 by the National Science Foundation. In October 2016, it reestablished itself as a stand-alone facility, legally managed by Associated Universities, Inc. and doing business as Green Bank Observatory.
Students, teachers and radio astronomers from all over benefit from its services, which include research facilities and tours for students and science enthusiasts. One Green Bank educational program provides students with data to analyze in their own classrooms, while another has allowed hundreds of researchers from diverse locations to operate a telescope remotely and collect data at their home institutions.
Researchers have used these sensitive instruments to detect signals 14 billion light-years away. Green Bank’s exciting discoveries include a new type of pulsar and probiotic molecules in space.
“We have the only radio telescope in this half of the world currently being used for a 10-year study, the largest search for extraterrestrial intelligence humankind has ever undertaken,” says Business Manager Mike Holstine.
Green Bank employs between 100-140 people, depending on the season. It accommodates approximately 50,000 tourists annually, who contribute $29 million to the area’s economy.
By Alicia Elkin
In 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandated a nationwide ban on lead shot shells for waterfowl hunting. In response, Kent Cartridge, a manufacturer of high-end shotgun shells, decided to take its product a step further and invest in humane waterfowl hunting alternatives.
Kent Cartridge’s research and development led to a product known as the Tungsten Matrix. This shot shell pellet is a nontoxic alternative that closely mirrors lead for effectiveness.
“Our goal was simple,” says Linda Barnhart, vice president of sales and marketing for Kent Cartridge. “Develop a nontoxic shot shell that would equal, and possibly exceed, the performance of high-quality lead waterfowl loads. We surpassed even our expectations.”
Kent Cartridge quickly realized one product would not foster a lasting business model. The Canadian-owned company, which has headquarters in Jefferson County with 30 West Virginia employees, now offers 15 different models in a variety of sizes.
Additionally, Kent Cartridge expanded into Europe in 1998 with the acquisition of the Gamebore Cartridge Company in Hull, England, and has a sales office and warehouse in Canada. Kent Cartridge ships to all 50 states and has experienced 75 percent growth in 20 years.
ORDERS Construction Company
By Katlin Swisher
In 1964, Robert Orders Sr. incorporated ORDERS Construction Company in St. Albans, WV, primarily as a bridge contractor. Since then, the company has expanded its services to include industrial and mechanical construction, heavy highway construction, site development and earthwork, pipeline construction, turn-key designs and marine construction.
While maintaining its headquarters in West Virginia, ORDERS has extended its footprint into Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In its 53rd year as a family-owned company, ORDERS services a wide range of markets and industries, totaling more than $1 billion of work performed.
During peak construction season, ORDERS employs 300 skilled workers throughout its various divisions, 75 percent of whom are West Virginia residents.
“As a construction company, we are unique because of the many markets and different types of projects we build,” says Chad Earl, director of business development. “Our projects touch the lives of almost all West Virginians, from the roads they drive on to the water they drink. We literally build the infrastructure that keeps West Virginia running, and we do it safely and efficiently, utilizing our most important resources—our highly skilled and motivated people.”
Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center
By Jean Hardiman
The Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center, known as MATRIC, has built a reputation on its unique export: innovation.
Based at the former research headquarters of Union Carbide in South Charleston, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation was established in 2003 to save quality jobs in West Virginia after Union Carbide was purchased by Dow Chemical Company, which moved much of the existing research and technology work to other locations. Since then, MATRIC has put skilled researchers to work helping organizations across the globe solve an array of scientific and technological challenges.
“We have had the opportunity to safely work on multiple continents, solving problems from Paden City, WV, to Mumbai, India,” says President and CEO Steve Hedrick. “These solutions may come in the form of new technology, new processes or through working with us to maximize the potential of our unique infrastructure.”
MATRIC focuses on the areas of chemical, energy and environmental technologies, as well as technical engineering and advanced software technologies. Its employees’ expertise, combined with MATRIC’s laboratory and pilot plant facilities and flexible intellectual property models, creates value for clients with minimized risk. Ninety percent of MATRIC’s product goes out of state, with clients coming from five continents.
This innovation exporter has 100 employees from around the world, some of whom have been with the organization from the beginning while others have been recruited to West Virginia. Thirty-three of MATRIC’s employees are Ph.D.-level researchers in organic and inorganic chemistry and chemical engineering. Additional staff include chemical engineers, computer scientists and other experts who work at either the South Charleston headquarters or MATRIC’s Morgantown location.
As a nonprofit, nearly all of MATRIC’s revenue is delivered to the local economy through rent, utilities, replacement parts, employee salaries and benefits and other avenues.
“Our company is on the rise,” says Hedrick. “Our 10-year vision is highly evolved from the prevention of a loss of immense talent in the Chemical Valley.”
Schonstedt Instrument Company
By Katlin Swisher
Schonstedt Instrument Company is the world’s leading manufacturer of magnetic locators and the developer of a product line of pipe and cable locators. Founded in 1953 by Erick Schonstedt, the company was initially a subcontractor to the aerospace industry, providing high-grade magnetometers for aerospace and laboratory applications, including the Hubble Space Telescope. Schonstedt began making magnetic locators for land surveyors in the 1970s, and its distinctive yellow stick soon became the global standard for survey monument location.
Today, Schonstedt locators are mainly used for industrial, utility, commercial and government applications. Schonstedt’s most popular products include the GA-52Cx, the industry leader among surveyors, and Maggie, its newest magnetic locator. Maggie was engineered to achieve the accuracy of the GA-52Cx while simultaneously offering the single-handed operation of the GA-92XT model. Schonstedt has also expanded its product line to include pipe and cable locators for the utility industry.
Headquartered in Kearneysville, WV, Schonstedt ships to more than 60 countries. All aspects of the business are operated out of the headquarters, including manufacturing, customer service, shipping and repairs.
“We chose to do business in West Virginia because it was cost efficient, a good manufacturing location and had a workforce that could handle high-tech products,” says Wendy Hart, director of marketing and business development. “West Virginia also has an environment of state support. Funding through the West Virginia Development Office has been an incredible resource for us to tap into, and it has helped us with exporting into new markets.”
In addition to making a niche product, Schonstedt has found a way to help make the world a better place. In 2007, the company launched the Schonstedt Humanitarian Demining Initiative.
Since the program’s inception, Schonstedt has deployed more than 500 locators to 26 war-torn countries for clearance of landmines, cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance. These units come at no cost, other than shipping, to the clearance teams on the ground. Schonstedt partners with the United Nations Mine Action Service, the U.S. Department of State and the Red Cross to review incoming requests. The program is sustained through donations from individuals, organizations and religious affiliations.
A Taste of West Virginia
By Samantha Cart
Appalachia’s food and drink culture was born of iconic dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. From Buckwheat pancakes to moonshine, West Virginia is known across the globe for its unique products. In this year’s Winners Circle, we’re honoring Bloomery Distillery Plantation, Buzz Food Service, Smooth Ambler Spirits and Uncle Bunk’s, which produce Mountain State-made foods and drinks enjoyed around the country while creating jobs and making a significant impact on their local communities.
Bloomery Distillery Plantation
After an inspiring trip to Italy in 2010, Tom Kiefer and Linda Losey, co-owners of Bloomery Plantation Distillery in Charles Town, WV, began creating award-winning liqueurs made from their own organic, homegrown ingredients, including lemons, raspberries, ginger, pumpkins, cranberries and black walnuts.
The distillery has won more than 25 international awards, including the honor of being named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s best entrepreneurial companies in America. The company’s products can currently be purchased in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“We are growing beyond the northeast this year to California, Texas and Illinois and are also talking to distributors in Europe,” says Losey. “It has been an exciting process so far with the ups and downs of running a small local business that is community centric but also has the potential of growing into a global business. Terrifying? Yes, but breaking through that terror barrier has been thrilling.”
Smooth Ambler Spirits Co.
Founded in 2009, craft distillery Smooth Ambler Spirits Co. uses local mountain water, regionally sourced corn and wheat and clean air to produce handcrafted vodka, gin and whiskey products in West Virginia’s Greenbrier Valley.
The small business currently has 12 employees, but CEO John Little expects to have 20 employees by the end of 2017 to fulfill the needs of the burgeoning company, which ships its products to 33 U.S. states and the U.K.
Along with making a significant impact on the local economy through its sales and tasting room, which sees approximately 180 visitors a week during peak season, Smooth Ambler also extends its reach by purchasing 88 percent of its grain from Turkey Creek Farms in Monroe County, WV.
“Our farmer is able to continue his family business because we are buying so much grain,” says Little. “I think it’s huge for our area that we promote West Virginia agri-tourism all around the world.”
Buzz Food Service
Buzz Food Service, a specialty meat company in Charleston, WV, has met the changing needs of the food services industry by providing high-quality meat and seafood for more than 50 years.
Since Dickinson Gould Jr. became part of the executive team that purchased the company in 1968, it has grown to employ 40 people.
“I believe we’ve helped many local restaurants be more successful,” says Gould, president and owner. “One of our aspirations is to create an environment where the people of Charleston and other communities around the state become more thoughtful about and loyal to local restaurants. The more we embrace and support small business, the stronger our entrepreneurial culture becomes, resulting in more unique, local dining options and more vibrant places to live and work.”
Buzz ships its quality cuts to independent restaurants, country clubs, hotels and resort properties in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, including Paterno’s at the Park, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Berry Hills Country Club, Bricks & Barrels and Le Bistro.
Uncle Bunk’s, LLC
A specialty food company located in Sistersville, WV, Uncle Bunk’s is truly a family affair. Owned and operated by Larry Young; his wife, Rose Marie Young; and their daughter, Stacey Young Kasun, the company manufactures handmade, gourmet products using fresh produce and spices with the goal of keeping Appalachia’s canning tradition alive.
Uncle Bunk’s sells its products online; at fairs, festivals and craft shows across the Mid-Atlantic region; and in 150 gift shops, grocery stores and specialty food stores in the U.S. In the past, Uncle Bunk’s products were also exported to Hong Kong.
“Our products are made from old family recipes,” says Young Kasun, co-owner and director of business. “My dad learned to can and farm in Wetzel County, and these products are our heritage. We are proud to be representing West Virginia and a part of her culture that folks outside the state don’t have a chance to experience.”
By Blair Dowler
Headquartered in Morgantown, WV, SustainU is an apparel company dedicated to changing the way clothes are made in order to improve the environment using post-industrial cottons and post-consumer polyester to create comfortable fabrics and timeless clothing.
The company, established in 2009, prides itself on making clothing from 100 percent recycled material manufactured entirely in the U.S. Under the direction of Founder and CEO Chris Yura, SustainU is also committed to reinvigorating America’s manufacturing sector and educating people on how honest and authentic clothing can have an impact on people’s lives.
In just eight short years, the company has seen tremendous growth, working with a network of factories with expertise in cutting and sewing garments in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Today, with 20 employees working directly for SustainU in sales, printing and distributions, SustainU can be seen across the country, partnering and working with elite events and organizations such as The New York Times, Bloomberg, White House Small Business Council, Ben & Jerry’s and the Made in America Festival.
SustainU is also known for working with top sports organizations like the MLB and NBA. Most recently, this innovator in recycled clothing launched The MLB® T-shirt Club. The T-shirt Club features all 30 MLB teams and allows baseball fans to “wear the season” with precisely curated shipments of officially licensed apparel delivered to their doorsteps throughout the year.
“For us, this is a really cool undertaking,” says Yura. “We want to be a trailblazing brand in sports and do things other brands are not doing—exclusive graphics with a unique story behind products that are being curated and delivered to your door is new. We are excited to be the ones to deliver that.”
For Yura, a native of Morgantown, SustainU is about more than just sports apparel and fandom. It is also a platform for changing the clothing industry while showcasing what the Mountain State is really all about—its people and their incredible talent.
By Maggie Matsko
Established in 1902, Silling Architects, a full architectural design services firm headquartered in Charleston, WV, is the longest-running continuous architecture practice in the state and one of the oldest in the country. The firm, which performs feasibility studies, master planning, programming, design and documentation and construction administration services, has expanded its geographic reach beyond West Virginia into Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and New York.
Over the last century, Silling has developed an expertise in building typologies centered on worship, education, workplace, health care and custom residential markets. Its reputation as a leading designer of courthouses and judicial facilities throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia took root in the late 1990s with the completion of the Putnam County Judicial Building in Winfield, WV. In total, Silling has managed the design of more than $150 million in out-of-state court construction projects since 2007 in addition to its continued projects in West Virginia.
“Over the next several years, we believe Silling Architects will be recognized as a regional design expert with the ability to partner with local architects of record to accomplish an even greater volume of work,” says Jody Driggs, Silling principal.
Walhonde Tools, Inc.
By Alicia Elkin
Gary McClure invented a tool that revolutionized how tubes fit boilers, and his wife, Joyce, found a way to turn it into a business.
The McClures founded Walhonde Tools, Inc. in 1986 in South Charleston, WV, where they manufacture unique, patented tube and pipe alignment tools for the heavy-industrial construction industry.
While working in the industry, Gary developed the original Wallbanger, which cut fitting times up to 300 percent. Joyce turned their garage-based idea into one of country’s industry-leading pipe and alignment companies.
Since its inception, Walhonde Tools, Inc. has evolved from handmade tools to state-of-the-art manufacturing and offers 10 specialized tools in various sizes. The company now employs 11 West Virginians and ships its products all over the U.S. to clients like the U.S. Navy and NASA, as well as internationally to Iceland, Canada, Cumbria, U.K., Guam, South Africa, France, Japan and Italy.
“Every tool that is sold or rented is processed through our facility in South Charleston,” says Joyce. “We are proud to be a made-in-the-USA company.”