When energy prices went through the roof a few years ago, domestic oil and gas exploration shifted into overdrive.
That was good news for North Augusta-based manufacturer Carolina CoverTech, which earns the bulk of its revenue making products to contain spills in the drilling and fracking industries.
But lower prices and declining exploration has meant the third-generation family-owned company has seen sales of those environmental containment systems dip.
Company co-owner Lee Jones says he’ll know demand is up when he “drives by the pump and sees gas back to $3.50 a gallon.”
“If they’re not drilling,” he says, “they’re not spilling.”
Fortunately, the 45-employee custom fabricator of high-performance textiles isn’t totally wedded to the oil industry. It makes about 12,000 products, ranging from commercial awnings and industrial roof leak diverters to boat and airplane covers.
The company’s products do exactly what the back of its employee’s T-shirts say they do: cover, protect, contain and enclose.
If a customer needs something flexible yet rigid, weather-resistant and air- or water-tight, Carolina CoverTech probably can make it.
“About 95 percent of our work is custom; only about 5 percent is standard,” said Michael Newton, the company’s chief of staff and strategy. “So our specialization is ability and agility.”
Carolina CoverTech has about 500 customers, including NASA, which used one of its products as a covering for the fiber optic systems in the Atlas V rocket program.
The company, located off U.S. Highway 25 near Fox Creek High School, also acts as an original equipment manufacturer for several corporations, with its largest customer being UltraTech International, a Jacksonville, Fla., firm that markets everything from chemical spill containment systems to products that manage stormwater runoff at construction sites.
“What’s great about our business is that whatever your political leanings are, everyone wants to keep the environment safe,” Newtown said.
The company got a public relations boost during the 2012 Olympics by producing medical device company NormaTec’s pump-based leg compression system, which was used by athletes including U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach.
Carolina CoverTech also makes absorbent and spill-control products for Pennsylvania-based New Pig, plus enclosures and fold-down golf club protectors for all three golf vehicle manufacturers: Club Car, E-Z-GO and Yamaha.
“We can do products for all three because of the trust relationship,” Newton said. “They know don’t we don’t share any trade secrets.”
The FloorTech Shield, a garage floor protector, and the Duratarp line of all-weather covers for storage containers are the only products Carolina CoverTech markets under its own name.
The company’s roots go back to 1858 in Augusta, where it was a furniture store that evolved into a manufacturer of window treatments and canvas awnings called Bailie’s Canvas. Skip Jones, Lee Jones’ father, bought the company in 1976, then changed its name in 1995 to better reflect its business.
The demise of the U.S. textile industry’s cut-and-sew segment in the 1980s and 1990s provided Carolina CoverTech with some of its most experienced employees, including industrial seamstresses such as 28-year employee Ruby Jordan.
She and other employees cut and sew vinyl, acrylic and polyethylene-based textile products and – depending on the product – hermetically seal them with radio-frequency welders, which use electromagnetic energy to bond materials at a molecular level.
Lee Jones and stepbrother Rian True bought the company in 2001, with Jones focusing on manufacturing and True handling day-to-day business affairs.
The privately held company declined to disclose revenues but said it would be considered a mid-cap small business, which would put annual sales in the $3 million to $10 million range.
“We have more experience in this company than any other in our field,” Newton said. “Both of our owners literally grew up in this business.”
Now, the next generation is being brought in. True’s son, Dorian, a Clemson University graduate, has joined the firm as a sales engineer.
“We don’t believe in nepotism rule,” Jones said.
The company’s growth under the stepbrothers’ direction has required them to bring in other talent as well, including two co-production supervisors: Marlon Bray, a former E-Z-GO employee, and Kyle Meeks, a University of Georgia education major who enjoyed working for the company so much as a part-timer that he decided to make it his career.
The two are charged with starting a second shift at the 21,000-square-foot plant to build an inventory of containment berms – one of its most in-demand products – and reduce order turnaround times from seven days to five or less.
Jones said the company operates mostly debt-free, which enables it to better weather the ups and downs in the oil and gas industry with which it is so intertwined. That will be especially important if the nation sees major changes in its domestic energy policy after the presidential election.
“Who knows what’s going to happen come November, December, January?” he says. “Are they going to put all kinds of regulations in place that say you can’t drill, that no permits are going to be released for 10 years?”
“If that happens,” he said. “Then our strategic plan, obviously, is going to change.”
For more information please contact:
Michael W. Newton Jr.
Chief of Staff and Strategy
803-278-4141 ext. 32