In a nondescript concrete building on an industrial street in southwest Wichita is a 56-year-old company whose products are found in some high-profile buildings around the world.
Balco Inc. manufactures nine different categories of architectural products that are in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; Palm Island Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Hong Kong (China) Convention Center; and the 88-story Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
International projects have become an increasingly important part of the company’s business. They have also proven a buffer against a slowdown in commercial building projects in the U.S. brought on by the 2008 recession.
“The number of buildings dropped in half,” Balco chief executive Ronnie Leonard said. “Building is not back to where it was … but at least we’re headed in the right direction.”
The company’s products include the following:• Expansion joint systems – flexible material inserted between concrete joints in a building that allows the concrete to expand and contract as well as to flex in instances of movements or shifts underground
• Floor and wall fire barrier systems
• Egress systems and exit signs using photoluminescent materials that absorb and store natural light and illuminate in the dark without the aid of power.
The company employs 53 in Wichita and 38 in Oklahoma City.
Balco was started in 1958 by Claude Balzer. The Balco name is derived from his last name, said Leonard, who has been with the company for 18 years. Leonard, a Wichita State University graduate, worked as Balco’s chief financial officer for 16 years before being promoted to CEO two years ago.
The company’s majority owner for 25 years has been Dallas-based private equity firm Capital Southwest Corp. Leonard and Ron Knak, vice president of engineering, also have ownership in Balco.
Leonard said the 2008 recession wasn’t really felt in the commercial construction industry until about 2011 – because many of the building projects her company and others were working on had already been financed and were underway before the severity of the downturn became clear.
About the same time Balco started to feel the effects of the recession, the company was seeing the results of its efforts to increase exports.
Those efforts included expanding its worldwide distribution and increasing its export department staffing from one employee to three. The effort has led to a 200 percent increase in exporting at Balco between 2011 and 2013, Leonard said.
“That has really afforded us the opportunity to increase our market share,” she said.
Also adding to the company’s growth in recent years, she said, were a focus on value-added services to clients – while competitors cut back – and making strategic acquisitions of firms that allow Balco to tap into new markets.