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A constant amid change Featured

9:38am EDT July 22, 2002

Since 1911, when my grandfather founded Central Ohio Welding, both our company and the economy have changed drastically. We've gone from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.

We also are moving from a family owned company to employee owned company by adopting an employee stock option plan (ESOP). The ESOP, implemented in 1998, now owns 15 percent of the company.

However, one thing that has remained consistent over the years is our commitment to our employees and employee training. We see our employees as our greatest resource and training and continuing education benefit us as well as them.

In 1996, we built, on-site, a modern learning center offering classes in blueprint reading, shop math and life leadership. Additionally, we offer on-the-job training for specific positions. Our in-house training department includes one full-time and three part-time trainers who oversee our internal training as well as our tuition reimbursement programs -- all of which help us retain current employees and recruit new ones.

Since 1997, we have become ISO 9002 certified, a process that ensures we have quality systems in place for manufacturing and management. The certification includes a training component, but has also helped us increase our on-time order delivery rate to nearly 95 percent, more than double the rate from 1992.

Employee training and education have also helped us as we've grown and expanded our product lines. In 1959, we became C.O.W. Industries Inc., with machining/fabricating and distribution divisions.

To help us retain our competitive edge, we've decided to expand our paint department and install a state-of-the-art, in-house, automated, $800,000-plus painting and finishing facility. To do that, we found a loan program specifically for purchasing equipment through Columbus Countywide Development Corp.

This program, the Ohio 166, requires a 10 percent down payment -- other financing would have required much more -- allowing us to preserve our working capital for other uses, including employee training and education programs. The City of Columbus Department of Trade and Development was so impressed with this project that it granted us a 5-year, 50 percent tax abatement.

We worked with Peggy Johnson, assistant vice president, and Roger Campbell, senior vice president, at KeyBank. The Ohio 166 program, administered through the Ohio Department of Development, requires borrowers to put down 10 percent, with the borrower's bank financing 50 percent and Columbus Countywide the remaining 40 percent. The Columbus Countywide portion is at an interest rate two-thirds of the prime rate, which lowered our expected payment.

Columbus Countywide also offers the Small Business Administration 504 loan program, designed for healthy, growing small businesses that need long term, fixed-rate financing to buy real estate or construct buildings, and other loan programs for small businesses with financing from $1,000 to $1 million.

Once this project is finished, we'll train some of our employees on how to use the equipment in our new paint shop. We also anticipate creating new positions, thanks to our low down payment and long-term, low fixed-rate loan through Columbus Countywide.

Since 1981, Columbus Countywide has helped more than 1,100 small businesses obtain financing and approved more than $190 million in loans, which have created more than 11,000 jobs and stimulated more than $500 million in new investments in the 13 counties it serves. For more information on Columbus Countywide's loan programs, visit www.ccdcorp.org or call 645-6171 in Franklin County or toll free at (888) 756-2232 from elsewhere.

John Burns is president of C.O.W. Industries Inc. in Columbus.