Bo Steding credits Kilgore Economic Development Corporation with helping him and his partners at Drilltools prove the wisdom of their venture from Day One – they saw the encroaching shadow of international competition on the horizon and took the necessary steps to get ahead.
The General Managing Partner for Drilltools, Steding and his cohorts – Director of Manufacturing Chris Thompson and Chief Financial Officer Karl Bryson – set out on their enterprise in 2010. They worked with KEDC from the get-go, benefiting from the relationship. The trio had chosen to construct a new plant, one purpose-built for competition with operations in Europe and Asia that were making plays for American manufacturing.
The goal was to produce everything under-roof. The longtime partners wanted to avoid imports as much as possible: “Which is what we’ve accomplished,” Steding says.
Eliminating the need for externally-sourced components and materials, almost everything the company utilizes is produced locally – in Kilgore as much as possible, in Texas when necessary, or from a United States partner as a final contingency.
Primarily a construction equipment manufacturer, from its inception Drilltools has utilized existing and new technology to craft products tailored for drilling and excavation. While output focuses substantially on heavy construction, the company’s service sectors run the gamut of commercial and residential projects to power grid infrastructure as well as road, bridge and marine ventures, including drilling support systems and foundation construction.
The privately-held operation serves a global roster of foundation and utility customers. Drilltools also equips contractors with essential equipment for heavy construction, much of it for civic projects.
KEDC representatives and other community leaders officially welcomed Drilltools to town with the September 2011 grand opening of the company’s 4001 Enterprise St. facility. The headquarters included an investment of about $5 million and the construction of a 50,000 square foot plant on 9-plus acres in Synergy Park.
Backing the project to further fuel diversification of Kilgore’s economy, KEDC awarded Drilltools a grant for $337,500. It helped offset the cost of the company’s real estate in the city’s principal industrial park while also buttressing construction, capital investment, and the expansion of the community’s job-base.
At the time, Steding said he and his partners chose Kilgore from sites across the United States for the sake of the town’s friendly, pro-business atmosphere. The efforts of Kilgore EDC and local officials streamlined Drilltools’ efforts to put down roots in the city, trimming the timeline to half of what it would normally take to establish a similar manufacturing operation.
Kilgore’s central location captured the partner’s attention with easy access to transportation corridors in all directions providing efficient movement of both raw materials and finished product. It ensures fast delivery throughout North America, the company’s primary market for foundation construction. Beyond the United States, Drilltools’ client base includes Canadian customers and some trade in Central and South America along with a smattering of worldwide clients.
A dozen years back, one of the primary sparks behind the creation of Drilltools was the focus on becoming a manufacturer independent of international imports, self-sustaining.
Contracting with U.S. mills for steel and resident companies for welding equipment and the like, the partners have refined their operation as a high-tech shop, focused on efficiency.
“That was all purpose-built, and we couldn’t have done it without KEDC for sure,” Steding said.
With Kilgore offering a transportation hub and a substantial workforce primed for a manufacturing operation, the decision became even easier through KEDC’s support.
“We made the choice then, and we never regretted it. That’s a bit unusual – you always have a thing or two you’d do different, but we’re as happy today as we were then in 2010/2011.”
It was a difficult time to build, he added; the American economy was in poor shape.
“The sky was falling after we came out of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. But we’ve been very fortunate, very blessed; we basically opened our doors and hit the ground running. We’ve had no time whatsoever that we haven’t grown our labor force,” starting with 10-11 employees and now supporting a roster of 70-plus, with no layoffs in the company’s history.
Drilltools’ focus on independence has proven prescient. The partners’ common past experience with foreign manufacturers drove them to focus on U.S. based suppliers, and all those relationships both bore fruit and continue to. It’s a point of pride for the Kilgore company.
Despite today’s supply chain challenges, Drilltools is thriving.
“We’re projecting growth year-in and year-out,” Steding said. Insulated when certain sectors lag and profiting when they thrive, “You just have to manage the inflationary periods, keep everybody moving, keep everything moving along. We’re in a unique situation, and we have been the last 20-plus years. We’re very fortunate in being very diversified. If the economy is hurting, we still seemed to be growing. These projects are getting larger and larger; we’re never going to get caught up on the infrastructure as the country just keeps moving along.
“We’re looking for a robust ’22 – even with all the craziness and trouble going on right now, we’re still very busy and blessed to be so.”