If you’ve ridden on the Tower of Terror at Disney World, you may not have realized it contains parts made by a Seymour industry.
If you’ve been on an Otis elevator, a part made by the same manufacturer could be on it.
That company also makes parts for Jeep Wranglers, Toyota Camrys, Ford F150s, diesel engines, recreational vehicle chassis, generators and agricultural equipment, among a few other things.
Since Excel Manufacturing Inc. moved to its current location in the Eastside Industrial Park at 1705 E. Fourth St. in 1995, it has focused on production machining.
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But when Delbert Kilgas and Dick Elmore started the business as Excel Tool Inc. on Jan. 1, 1967, it was in the tool and die market, making tools for manufacturers to use.
As the company celebrates 50 years in business, Kilgas recently decided to hand over the president’s role to his son, Brent Kilgas.
Delbert said he is glad to see the business still going strong. He credits that to good relationships with customers and employees.
“You build relationships with different people from all these different companies, and they build relationships between them, as well. It’s just like a family. I always compare it to a family. It’s a family business,” he said.
“The reason companies fail so many times in doing that is they try to sap out all of the capital,” he said. “You sap out all of the capital in the company, it can’t grow. Most of the growth usually comes from inside. That’s very important.”
Kilgas and Elmore had worked together at King Industrial Corp. in Seymour for eight years before deciding to start their own business.
“We got together and talked about going into business. That went on for probably three months,” Delbert said. “We tried to figure out how to get some cash together.”
They each contributed $10,000 to get Excel Tool Inc. going in a 2,500-square-foot building at 212 E. Second St.
“That took everything that each one of us could scrape together,” Delbert said.
The first couple of years were tough and involved a lot of long workdays, he said.
At the time, Delbert and his wife, Marlis, had three children, and Elmore and his wife, Patty, had four four kids.
“The men worked long, long hours, so a lot of the responsibility for keeping the family going on the homefront, Patty and I kept busy,” Marlis said, smiling.
By the end of the second year, the company had nine employees and seven machines.
The growth in business and the number and size of machines forced them to search for a new building, which they found at 2020 First Ave. in the Freeman Field Industrial Park. It was 10,000 square feet.
Customers included General Motors, Arvin Industries and Cummins Inc.
“We did work for people, and they liked that, and at the time, there was a lot of growth in the tooling business,” Delbert said. “We tacked onto that and did better.”
The business remained at the facility until 1995, growing to 50,000 square feet and 125 employees.
About half of that workforce moved to Excel Manufacturing when it opened Jan. 1, 1996. Brent came on board and took ownership with his father, while Elmore and his son, Jay, continued to operate Excel Tool.
The Fourth Street facility was built in the late 1980s as a spec building when the Eastside Industrial Park was created. Home Products International made ironing board covers in the building until 1994, and Excel Manufacturing started moving in in 1995.
There have been a couple of additions to the building since then, growing from 30,000 to 82,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
The company has added several new markets, including automotive in the early 2000s. It now ships parts to around 25 different customers, including area industries Aisin Drivetrain Inc. in Crothersville, Cummins Inc. in Seymour and Columbus, NTN Driveshaft Inc. in Walesboro and Peerless Gear in Salem.
Excel Manufacturing also ships parts to Mexico, Brazil, India and the United Kingdom and even buys from different places around the world.
With the switch to automation, the company now has more than 50 CNC machines.
Like many other companies, there have been a few ups and downs along the way. An oil embargo in the early 1970s and recessions in the late 1970s into the early 1980s and again in 2009 affected operations.
The latter lull in the economy caused the company to have its first layoff, dropping from nearly 100 employees to about 65.
“We cleaned, and we did improvement projects, and finally, we just ran out of things for people to do,” Brent said. “We just couldn’t find things for them anymore, so we had to lay off a few. We didn’t like that in 2009, but we didn’t have much choice.”
But by the next year, they started hiring again, and some of the people who were laid off returned.
Since then, the number of employees has gradually increased. Now, there are more than 90.
“We’ve got four managers that have been with us 30-plus years,” Brent said. “They all started out on the floor and got some education, as well, along the way and really grew with the company as the company grew. They all came in the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s time frame out of high school or out of college and have helped us grow the business.”
Rod Boardman is among that group. He started in 1975 and later left to go back to college to earn his engineering degree, and now, he’s the sales and engineering manager.
“It was always growing,” he said of the company. “Delbert always had a vision of a 100-man shop. They were always trying to just go into new things and keep building on what they already had. We just kept learning.”
Tammy Goecker started 15 years ago and is the human resources manager.
She said the work ethic instilled by the Kilgas family is one reason she has remained with the company.
“The employees see their work ethic and their dedication to the business, not only for their own livelihood, but also we are a family business and we are a family here, and they are not just a number here,” she said.
“The Kilgas family definitely instills that with them, and I know the managers feel the same way and have grown with the company and want to carry on that tradition of a hard work ethic and make Excel Manufacturing succeed for employees as well as the customers to meet their requirements,” Goecker said.
Doug Borcherding started in 1984 as a machine operator, moved into programming and has been a manufacturing engineer since 1996.
He said he it took a lot of determination on Delbert’s part to make the business succeed, and his employees have followed suit.
“It’s just good people,” he said of what keeps him around. “They take care of you. I’ve never looked for another job as long as I’ve worked here.”
Brent’s wife, Sandy Kilgas, joined the company in 2001, working in accounting. The couple have helped oversee the business in the past few years as Delbert approached 80 and retirement.
“I just wanted a part-time job but also really was just interested and wanted to be a part of the business to kind of learn about it a little bit,” Sandy said of why she came on board. “I just love the people, and I love the job and learning more. You’re just learning constantly.”
Brent said his parents and the Elmores made huge sacrifices to get the business started 50 years ago, and he’s glad to see it continue to provide good jobs for local people and good service to customers.
“It has been a great experience, and I’m glad to be a part of it for the last 20 years,” he said.
Excel Manufacturing Inc. is at 1705 E. Fourth St., Seymour.
For information, call 812-523-6764 or visit excelmanufacturinginc.com.
During his 50 years with Excel Tool Inc. and Excel Manufacturing Inc., Delbert Kilgas also was involved with the Cummins Supplier Council, Jackson County Council and Community Foundation of Jackson County board.
He also has been an active member of the Immanuel Lutheran church and school boards, including serving as the church’s 1995 building committee chairman, and a member of the National Tooling and Machining Association and Mold Makers Association.
He likes to travel and play cards.