Whether it’s oil, water, liquified natural gas or canned food, Manatee County’s Dixie Southern can build a steel tank to hold it.
The custom steel fabrication company, certified through the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, recently celebrated 40 years in business in Manatee County. Dixie Southern supports power, water, mining, agriculture and food processing industries through building custom pressure vessels, large diameter pipes, exhaust stacks, heavy ductwork, steel silos and other components.
President Stan Kinnett sums up his company’s business in five words.
“We make really big stuff,” Kinnett said.
But the steel fabrication process is anything but short or easy. Lead time on the company’s projects, won through bids, ranges from two months to more than a year. It takes a team of welders, specialized painters, managers, project leaders and engineers to finish a Dixie Southern product. Finished products are shipped to clients by truck or from Port Manatee. Kinnett estimates they’ve used the port four times in the past two years.
Altogether, the company employs about 65 people in Manatee County and has three sales consultants between Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis.
Dixie Southern was established in 1976 as a small manufacturing shop in Duette. Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners owns Dixie Southern through a Florida-only fund, meaning the fund invests only in Florida companies. The Florida-only fund investors own the majority of Dixie Southern’s stocks, Kinnett said. Vice President of Operations Pascal “Pat” Logue, Dixie Southern board member Mark Brown and Kinnett all hold shares as well. Because the Florida-only fund is invested through a private equity firm, it is unknown who the investors behind the fund are.
Before incentive packages are approved, the Manatee County Economic Development Program and the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., if involved, will research who owns the company, how many years it’s been in business and the company’s history, Manatee manager Karen Stewart said.
65,000 square feet under-roof space
One of Dixie Southern’s 12 recent hires came from its now-shuttered Arkansas facility. In late 2011, the company rented a suitable space in Springdale, Ark., but by early 2014 discovered the expansion wasn’t in the best interests of the company. Dixie Southern qualified for incentives in Arkansas, as well, and Kinnett said they repaid the loans after closing the Springdale facility.
The other 11 jobs created in 2014 and 2015 were “locally grown,” Kinnett said. The incentive agreement between Dixie Southern and Manatee County was approved on June 3, 2014 and has helped the company recover from losses incurred through the attempted expansion into Arkansas.
“We obviously took a huge financial hit in Arkansas,” Kinnett said. “I mean, $12,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but any help is appreciated.” The incentive money is used to pay for safety training and posting open positions on career websites such as Monster.com or Indeed.com, he said.
The 12 added positions were an expansion of Dixie Southern’s production workforce, but Kinnett said they made cuts on the managerial side “to keep costs competitive.” Three managerial positions were cut from Dixie Southern’s Bradenton headquarters office, 842 62nd St. Circle E., and two from the Duette facility.
Dixie Southern, per the incentive package agreement with Manatee County, is expected to create 38 more jobs for a total of 50 new jobs by 2019. In order to qualify for the remaining $38,000 of incentive money, all created jobs must have an annual wage of $42,132 or higher. If the company wins a particularly sizable job, Kinnett said they’ll sometimes hire extra people to manage the workload. If employees are hired for a large project, Kinnett said Dixie Southern tries to keep them on staff after the project is finished.
“We have been pretty stable in the last several months because, when you have a good employee, you’d rather them work some overtime rather than go and find someone else you may have to lay off later,” Kinnett said. “We haven’t had a layoff in Florida in years; it doesn’t mean we haven’t terminated people, but we haven’t had a layoff due to no business.”
Kinnett intends to create the 50 jobs required if he can find people to fill them. Filling welding positions has been Kinnett’s biggest challenge so far.
“We have worked with Manatee technical schools, but that has just not been successful for us,” Kinnett said. “I honestly don’t know (why); we even offered to maybe teach a class or something, but I think a lot of it has to do with we’re so far out here that it just doesn’t work.”
12 acres unrestricted storage space in Duette
Manufacturing is one of Manatee County’s 10 targeted industries for growth. Dixie Southern’s place in the manufacturing industry plus its job-creation goals made it a good fit for an economic development incentives package, Stewart said. The incentive package also includes a $2.7 million capital investment pledge from Dixie Southern.
So far, Kinnett estimates Dixie Southern has spent between $300,000 and $400,000 on equipment to help facilitate projects, including forklifts, welding equipment and cranes.
Other targeted industries include life sciences, information technology, aviation and aerospace, homeland security, financial and professional services, manufacturing, corporate headquarters, research and development, sports performance and cleantech, or businesses who make products or provide services with reduced waste and renewable resources.
Incentives at a glance: Dixie Southern
Address: 12650 S. County Road 39
Year incentive approved: 2014
Incentive amount: $50,000
Projected job growth: 50
Projected average wage: $42,132
Projected capital investment: $2.7 million
Incentives paid: $12,000
Source: Dixie Southern, Manatee County