Entrepreneurs start businesses for many reasons, but you rarely see it done simply because a group of people enjoy working together and living in the same community.
So it is with the management team at Eugene, Ore.-based Ridgeline Pipe Manufacturing LLC, a newly formed PVC electrical conduit extruder made up of former PW Eagle officials who chose banding together and staying in Eugene over relocating to stay on board with Los Angeles-based JM Eagle. JM and PW merged in June 2007.
Three of our five partners are born and raised here, and a fourth has lived here his whole career, Ridgeline President Jeff Sherman said in a phone interview. We're all strongly tied to the community here and didn't want to move. We were offered the opportunity, but didn't want to.
After the JM-PW deal, JM Eagle closed the former PW plant in Eugene. The plant was formerly a water pipe plant. We turned it into a conduit plant, he said.
Ridgeline started in March 2008. The two-building, 54,000-square-foot operation employs 45. The company is running four extrusion lines and also fabricates its own sweeps and elbows. Conduit diameters are one-half inch to 6 inches industry standards. The company supplies but is not injection molding itself couplings, adapters, electrical boxes and other fittings.
There was already a deep manufacturing talent pool to hire due to the departure of PW Eagle from Eugene, Sherman said.
We're talking about people who averaged 25 years with the company, he said. There were a lot of very experienced extrusion people here locally.
Ridgeline is supplying conduit to customers in the northwestern U.S., including California and Alaska, and as far south as northern Nevada. The pipe maker is focused on the electrical sector because of ties to that market developed during their careers at PW and because it's a less-expensive startup than it would be to also serve the plumbing, water and sewage industries.
We felt like we could get market penetration in that business and make an efficient conduit plant, Sherman said. And quite frankly, JM is very good in the municipal water business. It takes a lot of investment to get the product range you need in that business. It was a pretty easy decision to make.
The plant is highly automated, he said. That, combined with the firm's nimbleness, is what makes Ridgeline a competitive player in the conduit market. The firm is targeting 2011 for a full turnaround of the construction industry.
It's an extremely challenging environment, he said. We're right in the middle of that, struggling to be lean, to do things as efficiently as possible.
This winter is going to be a tough go. It's going to take grit to get through it. But [for] the companies that make it through 2009, there will be less companies to deal with and opportunity for growth.
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