Compco celebrates 60 years focusing on teamwork, American materials


By KALEA HALL

khall@vindy.com

COLUMBIANA

One room REFLECTs American pride with numerous bald eagles on shelves, the wall and floor at Compco Industries.

Another conference room is filled with sculpted elephants that seem to invite guests in.

Pictures of jets line the hallway wall now, but soon they will be accompanied by a picture of each employee who comes to work every day to manufacture tank heads.

The industrial site is more than just a place of work for its 115 employees; it is like a home. The value-based and employee-focused company celebrated its 60th anniversary this year.

“We are a team,” said Clarence Smith Jr., chairman of the board emeritus.

The team was started in 1954 by Clarence Smith Sr. and Martin Poschner as a manufacturer of metal pipe hangers for Commercial Piping Co., which is where the name Compco originates. Compco expanded its product line to produce tank heads for the pressure vessel, water storage, propane, cyrogenics and air-receiver industries.

In 1981, Compco expanded its operation outside Youngstown to a plant in East Palestine. Today, the company operates solely in a 238,000-square-foot building on Railroad Street in Columbiana.

The company started with producing tank heads up to 48 inches in diameter and now has the capability of going up to 120 inches in a variety of thickness in either carbon steel, aluminium or stainless steel. The company supports local steel suppliers.

“We buy American steel here,” said Rick Fryda, president and CEO of Compco. “You are not going to find any foreign steel.”

Fryda has been with the company for 34 years — making him one of 22 employees who have been there for more than 25 years. He started out sweeping the plant floor and was quickly trained to work on the press.

“Today, when we bring people in we have a formal training process,” Fryda said. New team members are trained by Rob Folsom, executive vice president of Compco.

Folsom requires his students to pass the 300-question test with a 100 percent, and they are tutored until they do. The students learn about the company, the product and the process in producing the product. He also provides continuing education for Compco’s seasoned employees.

What also changed since Compco’s inception is the size of the company’s business.

From 2011 to 2012, the company’s production grew, and 2013 was a record year, Fryda said. The growth is judged by the tons the company processes. From 2008 to the first quarter in 2014, the company has more than doubled in production.

“We have gained a lot of market share,” Fryda said. “One of the things that has changed is the philosophy here. Our customer is our boss, and our boss can simply fire us.”

Although Compco is on a solid path of growth now, there have been some bumps along the way. Those hard times lasted from 2003 to about two years ago, but not one person lost a job.

“We had a lot of orders, but smaller quantity,” Fryda said. “It kind of bonded people closer together.”

Compco is now in the midst of preparing a new press that will expand its capability for the six to seven markets it supplies. The state-of-the-art press will be up and running in September.

“Any tankhead 12 inches and above is probably made here,” Fryda said.

Compco’s products are global, but the company itself sells to customers who then sell their products to others outside the U.S.

“One thing my father hoped was that I would live through a recession and, well, I have lived through two,” said Greg Smith, Clarence Jr.’s son and chairman of the board. “Leadership gets through tough times. We have to prepare. We are very blessed with some great people.”

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