BRADENTON -- Air conditioning, electric and plumbing service provider Air & Energy brought a little more blue to Bradenton's central business district a few months ago.
After operating out of cramped space on Anna Maria Island for 32 years, the company moved its headquarters and most of its operations into a remodeled light industrial building on Sixth Avenue West in September. Its distinctive blue-and-white sign is prominent and the company's image has gotten a boost. Since the relocation, Air & Energy has seen monthly new customers jump from about 70 to more than 120.
Even though downtowns typically appeal largely to offices, retail and restaurants, Air & Energy's move to Bradenton makes sense. Just a block off Manatee Avenue, the company's new 13,500-square-foot office and warehouse facility is on one of three major traffic routes through town.
The company had good exposure when it headquartered just off East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach. But in recent years, having a more central location in Manatee County has become a crucial need. Its customer base has grown from being nearly island-exclusive to a 50-50 split between the mainland and the keys in Manatee and Sarasota.
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That means that its plumbers, electricians and air conditioning techni
cians need to be able to get to Lakewood Ranch just as quickly as they get to Longboat Key.
"We're a logistically challenged business," said Stewart Moon Jr., vice president of the family-owned company. "Response times are everything."
Air & Energy is one of a few blue-collar businesses that have chosen downtown Bradenton as the place to be. Flowers Foods is building a 14,000-square-foot warehouse and retail outlet on Ninth Street East. Med X Change, a manufacturer of digital video documentation systems for medical and surgical applications, has been building its equipment in a small, downtown assembly plant since 2008.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said bringing these businesses into the city's mix increases employment downtown. City staff, he said, work to make it easy for relocating businesses to move in.
Air & Energy alone brought a work force of 40 from the island. It is hiring because it needs more plumbers, electricians and air conditioning technicians to keep up with its growing workload.
"Quite honestly, Bradenton has been a blue-collar business town," Poston said.
A retirement that didn't last
Air & Energy got its start in 1983 as a small air conditioning sales and service business in Holmes Beach. It stayed small until 1990, when Moon's parents, Trudy and Stewart Sr., bought the company. The couple had moved to the island two years earlier from Toronto to retire from careers in real estate.
But after a couple years of boating and spending time with their young son, the Moons started looking for a business to buy. Though they lacked experience in the air conditioning industry, they decided that it would be a good, long-term bet.
Twenty-five years later, Stewart Sr., now 70, is largely retired from the business. Trudy, 63, is its president. She, too, expects to retire from the business within a few years. The plan is for Stewart Jr. to one day move into the top executive spot.
During a ribbon-cutting tour she gave to economic development and elected officials this week, Trudy Moon said the move has streamlined Air & Energy's operations. The extra room provides space to lay out materials technicians need for the day's work ahead of time. That gets them on the job site more quickly.
It's a big change from the days of being cramped into an 8,000-square-foot building in Holmes Beach.
"We were able to hire a full-time employee to run our warehouse because now we have one," Trudy Moon said.
An adaptive reuse
In moving to Bradenton, Air & Energy rehabbed an aging light industrial property. The company purchased its location at 555 Sixth Ave. W. for $639,000 in 2013. About 18 months ago, renovation work started on the two 35-year-old metal buildings on the property.
Needing room for offices and a warehouse, the company built an insulated and stucco-finished layer over the larger of the two buildings to make it more energy efficient. It installed all new electrical service, air conditioning and its own computer server infrastructure.
The completed building is forward looking. The office space was built in modular fashion, allowing for the addition of more work stations as needed. Some areas were left open with the idea that they could easily be converted to private offices in the future.
Work took about eight months longer than expected. Air & Energy did all the lighting, wiring and climate control work itself outside of its regular customer service schedule. Stewart Moon Jr., who did the initial design work on the building before turning it over to Lakewood Ranch architecture firm Fawley Bryant, said he is particularly proud of the lighting and air conditioning systems. The building's 232 recessed LED lighting fixtures run on a single 30-amp breaker. They draw about as much power as a typical residential kitchen circuit.
It's no surprise that the air conditioning system is also state of the art. Moon sees it as a demonstration of efficiency.
"They barely run for all the insulation we did," he said.
The company's other building on the property is getting light use as an event center of sorts. It hosted the second annual Horne & Moon scholarship fundraiser. It has yet to be designated for a regular business use.
Air & Energy will continue to run part of its operation out of its Holmes Beach property.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.