By Jim Gaines, USA Today Network ̶ At age 20, Protomet Corp. is still growing.
The Oak Ridge-based design and manufacturing firm is celebrating its 20th anniversary with new products and continuing plans for expansion of both its physical plant and payroll.
Founder Jeff Bohanon worked at the Y-12 National Security Complex for 12 years and began a consulting business with another engineer. Within a year, Mercedes asked them to work on a project.
“We were able to provide an innovative solution for a particular part they manufactured, and they gave us a contract for a million of those parts,” said Bohanon, who is still CEO.
Protomet’s first office was in Commerce Park’s Tech 2020 building, but after less than a year the firm needed production space, and so moved into Bethel Valley Industrial Park, he said.
More land was acquired in 2005 for an expansion, but as Protomet’s products kept growing the company expanded again. Sales have increased 500 percent since 2009, according to Rick Laney of Rick Laney Marketing.
In 2013 the company opened a 40,000-square-foot, $7 million manufacturing facility in Bethel Valley, more than doubling its previous size, he said.
In the last year, Protomet has put more than $4 million into new equipment, including a multi-pallet 5-axis machining center, according to Laney.
“We have some Homeland Security work that we’re doing which requires the 5-axis,” Bohanon said.
Now he is working on the biggest jump yet: a 100,000-square-foot increase that could mean 200 new jobs over five years. Protomet currently employs 60.
In November, Protomet bought almost 20 acres adjacent to its current plant from federal and Oak Ridge authorities, with an eye on the planned expansion.
In January 2015, Parker Hardy, president of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion would cost $15 million to $20 million
The land was owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which sold it through the General Services Administration to the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board for $99,500, according to DiAnn Fields, DOE public affairs specialist at Oak Ridge. Protomet, in turn, bought it from the Oak Ridge IDB.
Bohanon said in December that if he decides to build on the site, work would start in the first half of 2017. Construction of the 100,000-square-foot facility is expected to take about a year.
But he said at the time the land would require a lot of earth-moving to make it suitable for construction, and he was still considering other sites, including one in another part of Tennessee and one in South Carolina. If he settled on another site, it could be only for new production, or a wholesale relocation of the business, Bohanon said.
“Nothing’s really changed from what we’ve been saying from the beginning as far as our desire to stay in this area,” he said Friday. “We’re still moving forward on the analysis of the property.”
Customers bring their manufacturing problems and projects to Protomet, which works out new ways to make parts less expensively, Bohanon said. Over the years the company has done some work for many industries, including most high-tech firms in the Knoxville area, he said. But early this century Protomet began making more marine-related products, and now has its own high-end brands under the name PTM Edge Watersports. Among those products are a universal-mount mirror bracket system and universally adaptable clamping board rack.
Read the entire story in the Knoxville News Sentinel here.