OMAHA – Duane Ohlrich, his wife, Patricia (above), and their company, Industrial Systems & Supply, Inc. of Columbus, Neb., have been named the Nebraska Small Business of the Year for 2012 by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The company was nominated for the honor by Loren Kucera, Director, Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), Wayne. They have been invited to attend National Small Business Week May 20-22 in Washington, D.C., and are eligible for selection as the SBA’s National Small Business Person of the Year.
A series of award ceremonies, small business events and educational forums will mark the 59th anniversary of the agency and the 49th annual proclamation of National Small Business Week. During the festivities, more than 100 outstanding small business owners from across the country, including Industrial Systems & Supply, Inc., will receive awards while gathering for three days at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in our nation’s capital. They will meet with top administration officials, congressional representatives and national business leaders.
Industrial Systems & Supply was chosen as the state’s top small business based on its history as an established business, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and unit volume, response to adversity and innovation in products and services offered. The company distributes computer-controlled machine tools for manufacturers across Nebraska, western Iowa, northern Kansas and southern South Dakota. They serve as one of 17 domestic distributors for Mazak, the largest machine tool manufacturer in the world.
After graduating with associate’s degrees in auto mechanics and tool and die design in 1987, Duane Ohlrich got a job with a company which purchased supplies from Industrial Systems & Supply. By 1991, Ohlrich looked to move over to the supplier, asking then-owner Lloyd Harney for a job.
Harney replied to Ohlrich: “The only way you will get a job here is if you buy the company.”
And that’s exactly what Ohlrich did, sealing the deal with a handshake and a $5,000 down payment.
Over the 20-plus years at the helm, Ohlrich and his wife have built the company from $391,000 in sales to nearly $6 million in 2011 successfully overcoming the economic effects of the worst downturn in the manufacturing sector in more than a generation. One key to the firm’s survival during the recession was Ohlrich’s decision to expand the company’s customer base to the medical field, which did not suffer the downturn’s effects as much.
Constantly seeking innovative solutions, Industrial Systems & Supply sells equipment dramatically reducing cycle times for its manufacturing customers in producing parts; in one case reduced the number of machines a Columbus firm used to produce just one bearing from nine down to one, cutting the time on that job from two and a half hours to 12 to 13 minutes.
The Ohlrichs turned to NBDC for technical assistance and business advice in 2007, and took advantage of the SBA’s 504 loan program through the Nebraska Economic Development Corporation in Lincoln to move to a 14,200-square foot facility in 2009. Since then, the company has grown from four to seven employees.
The SBA’s 504 loan program provides small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for acquiring fixed assets, such as real estate and heavy equipment for expansion or modernization. The loans are made available through Certified Development Companies, SBA's community based partners for providing 504 loans. These non-profit companies promote economic development within their communities and work with SBA and participating lenders to provide financing to small businesses.
Another important factor in the selection as the SBA’s top small business for Nebraska this year is the couple’s dedication to help economic growth in Columbus.
The company sponsored business forums in Columbus in 2009 and 2010, which drew more than 200 to hear a variety of speakers, including noted economist Ernie Goss of Creighton University. Ohlrich also served as a showcase judge with the local chapter of Skills USA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry workers to encourage the next generation of innovators. He also is a member of a loosely-organized investment club of area small business owners to entertain proposals from local entrepreneurs seeking start-up or capital to expand.
Ohlrich, along with other Columbus area small businesses, also provided seed money for Central Community College’s entrepreneurship program, offering workshops, seminars and other events to educate and promote business ownership.
Since Oct. 1, 2010, the SBA has approved 730 loans to Nebraska small businesses with a total loan volume of more than $222 million, and has been responsible for creating more than 2,800 new jobs and helping companies keep nearly 7,500 jobs in the state.