NIBCO named Large Business of the Year 2009
Photo: Plant manager Rudy King, left, and Human Resources Director Don Muhlbach examine NIBCO valves and fittings just after a stringent quality control test.
(Photo: Bruce R. Partain)
NIBCO named Large Business of the Year 2009
By Bruce R. Partain
For almost 70 years, NIBCO – Northern Indiana Brass Company – has been in Nacogdoches, creating an array of heavy-duty valves and other flow control products that keep the company “ahead of the flow.”
With more than 300 employees working in a central Nacogdoches factory, the facility has been an important part of the local economy for generations.
NIBCO will be honored Sept. 29 as the Nacogdoches County Chamber’s Large Business of the Year.
The first NIBCO foundry opened its doors in Elkhart, Indiana in 1904, founded by Casper Schweitzer. Its first product was brass coronet keys for the legendary band instrument manufacturer, Conn.
Charismatic Ross Martin, fresh from serving as an Army captain, married Schweitzer’s daughter Esther – his high school sweetheart – in 1918. He joined his father-in-law on the floor of the foundry, becoming the seventh worker. Ross Martin had seen the world, including a new-fangled machine in England – the indoor flush toilet. Martin envisioned thousands of flush toilets being installed in America. NIBCO began manufacturing ballcocks, trip levers and flush valves. Martin later revolutionized the plumbing industry by popularizing wrot copper fittings.
During WWII, the Navy chose NIBCO over its competitors to produce valves and fittings for a high-priority marine construction program. It was time for NIBCO to expand. Martin felt Nacogdoches would be the best place for NIBCO’s second facility, supplying the Navy’s Port Arthur shipyards.
Martin negotiated with community leaders and the City through the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce. The community agreed to provide five acres of land, which had been used as a corral for stray farm animals. NIBCO promised $50,000 in annual payroll over the next five years.
One observer estimates that those five acres have produced a quarter billion dollars in paychecks since 1942.
This early economic development investment has obviously paid off many times over for Nacogdoches.
The Nacogdoches plant opened in 1942 with 32 employees. Its first manager was young Lee Martin, son of Ross Martin and a 22-year-old fresh graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After the war, the Nacogdoches facility returned to meeting the demand of the residential plumbing market, eventually growing to 220,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
By 2009 annual sales of Nacogdoches-made products reached $65 million annually.
That represents about five million pounds of finished metal products.
Recent slowdowns in the housing and commercial building markets have affected demand, but the company continues to innovate and adjust.
“It has been a relatively stable year,” said NIBCO human resources manager Don Muhlbach. We have made some strategic moves. One is to migrate some production from our plant to a sister plant in Mexico. That has hurt poundage, but it has been good for Nacogdoches. We are concentrating more on the bronze pressure-rated valves. With the available production capacity and a new core process, we are set to grow.”
Local plant manager Rudy Smith agrees.
“To grow the bronze pressure-rated valves we needed to have capacity. We have 30 to 35 percent of the market, and we can move up to 40 to 50 percent. Now that goal was set before this great recession, so for us to remain steady is notable.”
NIBCO now operates 13 manufacturing plants worldwide with more than 3,000 employees. It has the highest market share of valves and fittings in the United States.
NIBCO is legendary in East Texas for the long service of its employees. The Nacogdoches facility boasts 85 employees with more than 25 years of employment. Three team members have 53 years each.
NIBCO is set to invest $2.5 million in equipment upgrades in the Nacogdoches plant. This month, it received regulatory approval to install new core-making equipment. Cores are used in the casting process to reduce metal use and improve manufacturing speed. The new process is a state-of-the art method known as “cold-box.”
“We also will make auto-pour changes in the foundry,” Muhlbach said. And the cleaning room has moved from the foundry to the machine shop. We also have flow improvements – these have been continuously improving. And that improvement was from suggestions made by our team members.”
Nacogdoches NIBCO employees are involved in community organizations such as the United Way, CASA and more.
In 2002 NIBCO owners Rex and Alice Martin – through their foundation - donated $120,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Deep East Texas to help build a sports facility. The activities at the NIBCO Sports Center of Deep East Texas include gymnastics, cheerleading and boxing. Because the Boys and Girls Club gives kids a safe after-school environment, this gift is a true legacy.
The company’s core values – Safety, Integrity, Teamwork and Continuous Improvement – are reflected in the loyalty of its team members, and the legacy of its commitments to its communities.
According to local plant manager Rudy Smith, the best product of NIBCO is a good person. That’s the same now as it was when Ross Martin first wrote the phrase in the early 20th century.
The chamber will honor NIBCO as Large Business of the Year at the 88th Annual Meeting and Membership Banquet on Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the Baker Pattillo Student Center Grand Ballroom. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a raffle and social hour. The program and dinner will begin at 7 p.m.
An event registration form is posted on www.nacogdoches.org or contact the chamber office, 560-5533, for tickets and table sponsorships. Contact Barbara Holl, 560-5533, to donate items for the raffle and online auction. Find a link for the online auction on the chamber’s Web site.
Other award recipients will also be recognized at the event, including Small Business of the Year Glass Castles Stained Glass Studio & Gifts, Medium Business of the Year, Axley & Rode, LLP; and Citizen of the Year, Dr. Patsy Hallman.
The 2009-2010 chamber board of directors will also be installed at the event.
Click the link below for event registration form.