Founder & CEO
The first thing you notice when you enter the 80/20 building just off Highway 30 in Columbia City, Indiana is the energy and enthusiasm that permeate the facility. From the receptionist who greets you at the front door to the employees on the manufacturing floor to the CEO and founder, the enthusiasm of the workforce is obvious.
“Our people are what make us stand above the competition,” says Don Wood, CEO and founder of 80/20, Inc. “Without the people here, we’d look like everyone else.” The truth is, 80/20 Inc has never looked like anyone else. The idea for the company began in 1989 with a drawing on a restaurant placemat that outlined a vision of a way to make metal supports without the need for welding. Thus, the manufacturing industry’s first Industrial Erector Set® using a T-slotted aluminum framing system as an alternative to welded steel came into being.
The company’s first home was the Enterprise Center in Fort Wayne with four employees and a simple eight-page black-and-white catalogue. By 1994, the number of employees had more than doubled, the catalogue had expanded to 154 pages, and the growth of the company demanded a larger facility. To accommodate that growth—and to allow for future growth—80/20 moved to its current location in Columbia City in 1995.
Consistent Growth, On-going Expansion
When 80/20 moved to the southwest corner of the Park 30 Business Center (at the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and North 400 East) in Columbia City, the building was 95,000 square feet. Several expansion projects over the years have increased the facility to 135,000 square feet of office, manufacturing, warehouse, and distribution space to accommodate the manufacture of nearly 6,000 components that can be used to make workstations, furniture, displays and exhibits, guarding and enclosures, and more for the company’s 60,000 plus customers.
Though each of these expansions has been self-funded out of company profits, 80/20 received local tax abatements from the City Council. In January 2008, 80/20 Inc announced its most recent expansion—an investment of more than $5.5 million to upgrade the company’s machining and manufacturing technology.
To encourage this expansion project, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation provided performance-based tax credits and training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. In addition, the Whitley County Council approved a ten-year real and personal property tax abatement for the project. Finally, the EDC worked with the company and CenturyLink to ensure that fiber infrastructure could be extended to support the company’s continued growth.
The People Are Everything
According to Wood, “Ninety percent of 80/20 employees come from the local area. The other ten percent come from other parts of Indiana.” The company’s management has never had to recruit from outside Indiana. And why would they? “We want Hoosiers in here,” Wood said. “They’re good people.” When asked to elaborate, Wood went on to say, “Attitude is everything. And Hoosiers have a great attitude. They’re hardworking, positive people. And they’re dedicated to customer service. If you ask anyone at 80/20 what their job is they’ll likely tell you ‘Customer Service’ because, top to bottom, everyone knows we’re here to serve the customer.”
Central Location Is Key
Wood said he never considered any region besides northern Indiana for the business. “First off, this is home,” he said. “Second, the central location is really important to our business. We’re right in the heart of the market which means transportation out of here is great.” In addition, all of 80/20 Inc’s vendors are in Indiana. “Most aluminum extruders are Indiana companies born out of the RV industry,” said Wood.
A Good Place to Live and Work
The region has lots of amenities that make it attractive to employees and their families, starting with the low cost of living. “The low cost of living contributes to the energy of our employees,” said Wood. It also contributes to employee retention. “Turnover is about 4%,” said Wood. “We have employees who’ve been here 14-15 years. We also have people who have left and come back. Young people who get their first job out of school with us, leave for ‘something better’ and then come back because there isn’t anything better than Indiana.”
Area attractions are another big plus. “We have lakes throughout the region. Lake Wawasee in nearby Syracuse is the largest natural lake in Indiana and is less than 30 miles from Columbia City,” said Wood. “It’s a great lake for sailing.” In addition to lakes and the great outdoors, the area also has a thriving music and arts scene. “My wife and I are big Fort Wayne Philharmonic fans,” said Wood. “We always buy season tickets.”
Facing Future Challenges
In September 2009 the company began a planned expansion to add aluminum anodizing capabilities to its manufacturing and distribution center. This will allow the company to become even more efficient and timely when processing customer orders. Wood also has plans to build a training center on the property. “With 38 acres, we have the room for it,” he said.
The 80/20 philosophy extends beyond the company, reaching out into the surrounding business community. In 2008 Don Wood became an Innovation Champion in the Go Whitley! Accelerating Innovation program, a countywide business incubation program sponsored by the Whitley County EDC. In 2009, the company’s former VP of Sales and Marketing Dave Wood was named Whitley County’s representative to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership Board of Directors.