CELCO, a Family Business in Rural Kansas, Still Shining Brightly After 30 Years

Celco owners

In the agricultural town of Anthony, Kansas, 60 miles southwest of Wichita, you will find a unique company that does not seem to fit in the local picture of a farming community. They produce no material product; they don’t work for any local business; all their work is shipped to them, and they have very little competition. The company, Central Electropolishing Company, Inc. (CELCO), has been locally owned, operated and managed by the same family for 30 years. It was also started with the assistance of a SBA loan.

An Engineer’s Third Career Turned Brilliant

Ken Bellesine really enjoyed working with his design team at General Dynamics in the 1960’s. As a Senior Aerosystems Engineer, he thrived at creating new ways to design better products for the company. He was promoted after 14 years as a design specialist to a desk job in charge of program budgets. “When they took my design team away from me and ‘promoted’ me to doing budget work, I realized that I didn’t have the same passion for the desk job as I did working with my team on the shop floor,” said Bellesine. After a 16 year career in engineering, 2 years at Boeing and 14 years at General Dynamics, Bellesine resigned from his engineering career in 1970.

“Wondering what to do next, I was offered 545 acres of land in Harper County (Kansas) and I blindly went into farming,” Bellesine recalled. “I cashed in my retirement, sold my house and started farming and ranching in 1970.” Over time, Bellesine’s land holdings grew to 4,200 acres of land that he owned, leased, rented and farmed. He also operated a large herd of registered cattle.

In 1985, Bellesine’s curiosity piqued when he heard about a unique industrial process called electropolishing being done by a company in Houston. “I was drawn to it,” Bellesine commented. “It was something I had never heard of, yet I knew it engaged the engineer inside me that never stopped thinking.” Bellesine began working with the company in Houston to assist him in development of his own company, and he quickly learned the process.

What is Electropolishing?

Electropolishing is an electro-chemical metal finishing process that can make nickel, stainless steel and other metals shine like chrome. The process takes place when the metal is soaked in hot baths of electrolytes, phosphoric and sulfuric acids, and electrically charged at a prescribed voltage, temperature and time.

Electropolishing has five main attributes: (1) It improves the smoothness of a metal’s surface – down to a micrometer specification; (2) It refines the surface of the metal so particulates can’t build up on it; (3) It can make the metal “super passive” and non-reactive to chemicals, salts or acids; (4) It can electro chemically machine the surface of the metal to an exact (1/1000 of an inch) specification; and (5) to improve the cosmetic appearance of metal to give it a shiny, chrome like finish. Electropolishing is the opposite of plating or galvanizing, where chrome or zinc are added to the metal. Rather, electropolishing removes or alters the elements already in the metal being polished to give it the desired qualities of passivity, smoothness, precise measurement or appearance.

Industrial sectors, such as medical, pharmaceutical, food production, vacuum systems and semiconductor production rely on the benefits of electopolishing for the quality, safety and efficiency of their products.

Perfected the craft to start his own company

Fine tuning the electropolishing process is based in science and creativity.  “It’s a combination of being a physicist, metallurgist, and chemist,” said Bellesine. When Bellesine decided to start his electropolishing business he contacted Jim Knedler of the Kansas Department of Commerce and he suggested Bellesine contact SCKEDD (South Central Kansas Economic Development District) a certified development company in Wichita, to assist him in the development of a business plan. Knedler also recommended Bellesine connect with the Anthony Economic Development Board about incentives they could offer.

“Well, after completing the SCKEDD assisted business plan, I applied for a SCKEDD loan and was denied, probably due to the fact that my assets were connected to farming during that agricultural recession back then, and no one had heard of electropolishing” recalled Bellesine. Soon afterward, Bellesine applied for an SBA loan and received a call from the SBA’s Wichita District Office Director at the time, Clayton Hunter. “He was intrigued by my business plan and he called to ask ‘what in the world is electropolishing and what can you use it for?’”, said Bellesine. “During a face to face meeting with him in Wichita, I explained what the process was and how it is useful to the pharmaceutical, medical and other industries” said Bellesine. Director Hunter asked Bellesine to provide information on ten recognizable companies using electropolishing and the electropolishing revenues of each. After Bellesine updated his loan application with information that quantified the potential market value, the SBA approved a six figure SBA 7(a) loan – although Bellesine didn’t use the full amount. At the same time, the Anthony Economic Development Board agreed to construct a building for Bellesine in 1986 on a lease to buy term.

“In the fall of 1986, the building was completed and the equipment was installed, but I had no business,” said Bellesine. Fortunately, that first Thursday of business, the owner of the Houston electropolishing company happened to call about a new contract opportunity he heard about from a contractor of a pharmaceutical company, that the company may be looking for services from an electropolisher,” Bellesine continued. “I contacted the contracting firm and landed the business!”

Bellesine then had to overcome some logistical obstacles due to his location in Anthony, Kansas. “At first, UPS wouldn’t pick up from my facility because I did not have a contract with them, so I improvised and had my packages picked up from a store down the street,” recalled Bellesine.

One of CELCO’s first clients was Koch Industries that needed electropolishing work for their static mixer components. In 1992, Bellesine started electropolishing fittings that were used in the production of microprocessors. In 1997, CELCO was incorporated, and was handling work for companies like Intel, IBM, AMD and their 2nd and 3rd tier suppliers. In the early 2000’s, Bellesine started serving medical companies needing valves and tubing cleaned for oxygen service.

Since the first 3,000 square foot building was erected in 1986, CELCO has grown 15 times that size and currently does electropolishing work for approximately 300 companies, located in 48 states, Mexico, Canada and Puerto Rico. They also provide acid passivation, aqueous cleaning and oxygen cleaning services.

Bellesine attributes the company’s success to their focus on quality, delivery and price, in that order and not the other way around. He also has tremendous pride in the hard working staff, which includes his son Steve, the president, and two grandsons. CELCO has many long term employees that execute the technical work for the company. “We would not be where we are today without our great employees” concluded Bellesine.

Company Name: 
Central Electropolishing Company, Inc.
Location: 
Anthony, Kansas
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