Small business: Tulsa's First Process Steel undergoing expansion
BY LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2012
10/11/12 at 2:27 AM
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Several years ago, Dan Newton had a vision to create a company that would meet a market niche by providing cut and formed steel sheet in extremely long lengths.
Newton has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northeastern State University but got redirected to his first love, industrial design.
Today his family-owned company, First Process Steel, cuts and forms steel in lengths up to 60 feet. The business primarily serves customers in energy, construction, transportation and equipment manufacturing.
First Process Steel has grown from 20 employees when it began operations in 1995 to more than 60 employees now. Its facilities have grown from 21,000 square feet to 42,000 square feet, and annual revenue has grown some 550 percent.
First Process Steel is in the middle of a major expansion as it develops 28,000 square feet to include six new crane ways and two new press brakes with 60-foot capacity and a bending capacity of 2,600 tons. The expansion will provide a production increase estimated at 275 percent.
The Tulsa World posed a few questions to Newton:
How many family members participate in the operation of the business? What are some of the advantages as well as challenges that come from being a family-owned company?
We have one family member, my son-in-law Brad Swearingen, who is now acting as our general manager.
I believe the greatest hurdle is to overcome a common misperception that family members get a pass, or that they don't really have to apply themselves. My answer to this type of cynicism is: Wrong!
The position of general manager is a place of significant responsibility and influence. He must consistently demonstrate and uphold company standards of leadership and core values. To date, Brad has far exceeded my expectations and is serving our corporate family with excellence.
What is your perception of Tulsa's current economy? What about the manufacturing sector, in particular?
I believe Tulsa's economy, as compared to most in our region, is very good. Tulsa has a healthy and thriving manufacturing base compared to the rest of the country.
I believe there are three things contributing to this. One is that most manufacturers in the area provide products and services to the energy industry, which is doing well. Second, we have a solid, sustainable work force that supports manufacturers' success.
Third is, as I like to call it, our seaport - the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, which put Tulsa on the map as one of the best areas to support companies needing competitively priced sheet, plate and structural steel products. The port also provides great ingress and egress of goods shipping by water, rail and trucking.
What would you say is the most important lesson you've learned from being a business owner?
Do not beat yourself up over mistakes. Just know that mistakes provide us with great opportunities for correction and growth.
How did the company weather the difficult economic times? Did your business do anything differently to help it through the downturn?
A business advisory company saw the downturn coming and gave us a warning one year in advance. This gave us time to reduce overhead and redirect our focus on markets that we suspected would stay strong and sustain work at FPS to weather the recession.
How easy or difficult is it to find qualified workers in today’s labor market? Please explain.
In general, it’s a difficult process to find qualified people. It’s primarily our reputation in the industry that draws great talent and competencies to our company. We have implemented a robust training program to fully equip all employees to exceed industry standards.
What is one of your greatest joys that come from running a small business?
Watching employees discover their gifts and talents, and to see them grow and flourish as a part our organization.
What is your definition of success?
Fully embracing and walking-out your true mission and purpose in life.
First Process Steel
Owner: Dan Newton
Date established: 1995
Address: 2678 N. Harvard Ave.
Workforce size: 60
Description: Steel processing company, by cutting and forming of steel plate and sheet.
Small, but significant
Despite having a number of large employers, Tulsa actually is a small-business town. About 94 percent of all employment in the metro area is at businesses that have 100 or fewer employees, according to the Tulsa Metro Chamber. And, many of those firms are very small. Approximately 80 percent of total employment is at businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
Original Print Headline: Processor stretches out
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Dan Newton, First Process Steel owner and president, stands in front of the company's press brake. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Raul Rodriguez works at First Process Steel. The company is in the middle of a major expansion as it develops 28,000 square feet. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World