A fixture in Kilgore and East Texas since before the discovery of oil changed the course of the area’s history, the venture that began as Merritt Tool has evolved from a farming machine shop to an essential oilfield vendor to an aerospace component crafter and more.
Today, with A.P. Merritt, Jr. back at the helm of the company as president, Bryan Johnston serves as vice president of Merritt Preferred Components. “Throughout 90-plus years operating in Kilgore, the enterprise, and its workforce, have continued to reinvent themselves in response to an ever-evolving industry”, Johnston says, and they have consistently invested in Kilgore, giving back to the community that has been home since before the oil boom.
KEDC has been a dedicated supporter and community partner with the company for the better part of three decades. The evolving operation is a robust example of the diversification efforts Kilgore EDC champions. The company’s staying power, though two changes of ownership in the past 14 years, has been enhanced in part through KEDC’s ongoing focus on business retention and expansion.
The senior A.P. Merritt founded the concern in 1928. At that time, Merritt Tool Company’s primary focus was manufacturing farm equipment. Like so many other aspects of life in the area, though, the discovery of the East Texas Oilfield in 1930 sparked a significant change at the operation: for the next several decades, the company focused on machining oilfield tools and other pieces of equipment essential to the energy sector thriving in Kilgore.
Responding to another set of opportunities and challenges 50 years later, Merritt Tool Company diversified into the aerospace industry in the 1980s, investing heavily in Boeing to become one of the original structural component suppliers of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor platform. A little more than two decades later, the company won its first long-term agreement on Lockheed’s popular F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) platform in the early 2000s.
It was prior to that distinction that Kilgore EDC and Merritt Tool first joined forces to bring more economic diversity to the community. In 1996, KEDC supported the company with an initial Economic Development Performance Agreement, bolstering the business’ ongoing efforts to retool and advance operations for the aerospace industry.
In 2009, the Pennsylvania-based Triumph Group acquired Merritt Tool Company, recrafting the local establishment and its workforce into Triumph Structures – East Texas, Inc.
Kilgore EDC’s support of the company and its workforce continued through the change. Following Triumph Group’s acquisition, a second performance agreement in 2014 saw KEDC assist with the expansion of Triumph Structures.
By 2016, the modern machine shop manufacturing facility encompassed almost 100,000 square-feet in Kilgore. Serving customers in aerospace, energy, and other commercial industries, the operation specialized in hard metal milling, high speed machining, large conventional computer numerical control (CNC) milling, lathe capability, waterjet cutting, and assembly/kitting. Substantial contracts included multiple civilian and defense aerospace contracts ranging from the Boeing 727 to the Apache Helicopter and others.
That year, though, brought the announcement Triumph Group would exit the build-to-print aerospace structures and fabrications business, choosing to transfer local operations to other Triumph Precision Company locations. It was a move that would impact a majority of positions at the Kilgore facility.
With the looming consolidation outside of Kilgore, A.P. Merritt, Jr. and Bryan Johnston stepped forward to purchase the company back and preserve its workforce and operations here. The pair successfully acquired the business in August 2018.
Once again, Kilgore EDC’s ongoing retention efforts put the organization in a position to support the local company and its roster of employees. KEDC backed Merritt and Johnson’s efforts to reinforce the company’s direct connection to Kilgore and East Texas. A third Economic Development Performance Agreement was finalized in 2019 to help ensure production would continue in the company’s hometown, operating now as Merritt Preferred Components.
Today, Merritt maintains key specialties – milling, turning, grinding, and assembly – for commercial customers in aerospace, energy, and additional sectors with a need for aerospace products and the energy-related equipment that is a central part of the company’s legacy in Kilgore, the East Texas Oilfield, and beyond.
With Merritt Preferred Components restructured and thriving in Kilgore, Kilgore EDC remains excited for the future of the company. From its economic impact to the added market potential an almost century-old operation offers, KEDC is confident in the positive impact Merritt’s retention and expansion of its workforce will have on this community.