Roaring anniversary

19 March 2008

When Dobson Industrial, Bay City, MI, celebrated its 60th anniversary in June, the entire community joined in the celebration. By a happy coincidence, the Bay City River Roar was commemorating its 20th year, and Dobson signed on as the title sponsor for the event.

In addition to providing exciting entertainment for mid-Michigan residents, the Dobson Industrial Bay City River Roar attracted world-class powerboat racers and enthusiasts from around the nation. The boats traveled in excess of 130 miles an hour on a 1.25 mile circuit as spectators watch from the banks of the Saginaw River in the heart of the city.

Bay City also roared with rock concerts by Ted Nugent and Poison, carnival rides and more. As part of the festivities, Dobson gained further favorable exposure by being a sponsor of the Golf Outing.

The River Roar sponsorship was by no means Dobson's introduction to good corporate citizenship. “This was our fourth year of being the title sponsor,” says Christopher Vlk, Dobson's vice president of operations. “The River Roar is our way of promoting the local community. What makes it even better is that most of the proceeds go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bay County and other local charities.”

Dobson marked its own anniversary on Saturday, June 23 with a five-hour open house for vendors and customers, complete with refreshments, door prizes, facility tours and equipment viewing. More than 400 people attended the event.

Many of them availed themselves of trolley tours from the company to the Dobson Antique Toy and Firehouse Museum (founded by Jim Dobson, son of one of Dobson Industrial's co-founders) and to River Roar locations.

Dobson will continue to command considerable attention through 2008 as an integral part of SC&RA's 60th Anniversary commemoration. Less than a year after its formation, Dobson signed on as a charter member of the organization that ultimately became SC&RA. Dobson also is historically noteworthy because it was among the first trucking companies in the Midwest to use two-way radios.

The company was founded in 1947 by J. Gilbert Dobson, George Baker and Kenneth Goddard. Goddard and Baker previously had worked for Van Haaren Moving and Storage, a large trucking company in Bay City.

They left Van Haaren to team up with Dobson, who had the trucking authority to haul interstate. Twenty-two years later, Dobson Heavy Haul had become successful enough to buy Van Haaren as that company commemorated its own 100th anniversary. With the purchase of Van Haaren, one of the nation's oldest registered trucking firms, Dobson expanded its heavy trucking capabilities to encompass the entire United States in 1969.

Renamed Dobson Industrial in 2003, the company continues to obtain the bulk of its workload from some of the region's most respected companies such as Delphi, Dow Corning, General Motors, Johnson Controls and Lear Automotive. Providing continuity as the organization's third generation of family ownership is Chris Vlk, grandson of founding partner Kenneth Goddard and son of Norman Vlk. When his father died two years ago, Chris purchased his stock.

Another co-owner, Dale Bash, serves as Dobson's CEO and chairman. Jim Dobson retains the remaining stock in the company but does not take an active role in its day-to-day management.

Throughout its existence, the ownership at Dobson has made a conscious decision to remain a small- to medium-sized company. Dobson employs, on average, 75 people and normally has annual sales in the $12 to $14 million range.

The company today has five areas of specialization including rigging; storage; fabrication; steel erection, industrial maintenance and millwright services; and architectural doors, frames and hardware.

“We like the size of our company,” says Vlk. “We're not too big to do the small jobs that take one or two people, but we can man up and get 40 or 50 men on the job. Some of our competitors in Michigan won't touch a job under $1 million, but we like the small ones.”

Vlk notes that the company's decision to move into structural steel fabrication in the early 1960s has helped keep the company stable. “It works out pretty well because when the trucking industry slows down, it never seems to fail that we have something to move from our fabrication shop,”he says. “If we build it, we haul it.”

Conversely, slow times in the fabrication plant often coincide with a flurry of commercial construction activity. A particularly active customer for Dobson is Dow Corning. The company is the majority owner of Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., leading provider of polycrystalline silicon and other silicon-based products used in the manufacturing of semiconductor devices and passive solar cells and modules. In May, Hemlock Semiconductor announced it would invest up to $1 billion in the next four years to expand its Hemlock, MI facility

“ We're not too big to do the small jobs that take one or two people, but we can man up and get 40 or 50 men on the job. Some of our competitors in Michigan won't touch a job under $1 million, but we like the small ones.

Dobson minimizes staff turnover by offering a competitive salary, an attractive benefits package, including a 401k retirement plan, and year-end bonuses tied into financial results. Dobson also is a union employer for ironworkers, riggers and teamsters.

In addition, the company extends its capabilities by forming alliances with other SC&RA members. “It's great to know that if we get a request to pick up machines in Texas or New Jersey, we can contact a trusted SC&RA member in those areas instead of sending our own crew,”says Vlk. “We make a point of mentioning in our marketing material that we belong to the association. People like to hear that. They don't want to have to go looking for a rigger in another part of the country.”act


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