Volume 13 | Issue 4 | Year 2010

Mason Manufacturing boasts a full-blooded heritage that began back in the late 1940s. “Heritage” is an appropriate descriptor, as the business is a family owned enterprise that has endured through good times and bad. From the post-World War II boom years to the recent global economic turmoil, the Decatur, Ill.-based company attained and then maintained a leadership position in the processing equipment industry.
Today, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)-certified Mason is known for its high-quality heat exchanges, pressure vessels and columns, among other products. Its equipment meets the needs of many customers in many industries. “We run the gamut, covering a broad territory that includes the bioplastics, biofuels, grain processing, petroleum, power and water treatment industries,” says Ty Mason, the company’s vice president.

But, as the company indicates, it’s more than just about selling equipment. From initial concept to startup, Mason works with its customers’ engineering, procuring and inspection personnel to foster the perfect supplier/client fit. In this way, the company became a valued vendor to some of North America’s largest manufacturing and processing companies.

Such value often attracts interest beyond potential customers and, indeed, Mason recently captured the attention of Advantage Capital Partners, a leading business investment firm with offices and partners in Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. While its assets are far flung, Advantage focuses on providing growth capital and other investments that support local and state economic development efforts. Mason fell within the criteria but, more importantly, Advantage was quite impressed with the company’s sound management and growth potential.

Thus, in July 2010, Advantage took the lead-investor position in an arrangement that will provide Mason with funds that will stimulate continued company growth. Specifically, the investment will help sustain Mason as well as enable it to expand its offerings to new customers throughout the world, according to Jad Mason, Ty’s brother and company chief executive officer.

According to both companies, the investment is part of a new state program in Illinois designed to steer private investor dollars into underserved areas. The state initiative (the Illinois New Markets Development Program) combines with the federal New Markets Tax Credit program to offer tax breaks to investment companies, as long as these companies invest in areas typically ignored by capital providers. Besides encouraging business growth, this would help secure existing jobs and, hopefully, create new ones.

“For sure, that’s one of our main goals: building jobs in an area and within a business and within an industry that has been impacted by the tough economic times,” comments Ty Mason.

The financing package includes co-investment from the Mason brothers as well as executives and members of the board of directors, and MCH Equity Ventures. Also, Marshall & Ilsley Bank provides a revolving line of credit, which will be directed toward financing for the business’s short-term working capital needs.

But investment doesn’t imply control. “Advantage Capital isn’t interested in the day-to-day operations. My brother Jad and I will handle that,” says Ty.

Rather, Advantage Capital shares Mason’s growth vision and seeks to gain a solid investment return as it helps the company gain entrance into new market areas – a win-win situation, so to speak.

The investment will propel Mason into a new growth phase and extend the family focused operation’s successful history, which began in 61 years ago. “Roots date back to 1949 and a company called Mason Steel Fabricating Company, which was founded by my grandfather,” recalls Ty Mason. “That company was sold in 1983 and my father, Wes Mason, who worked with Mason Steel, then founded Mason Manufacturing in 1988.”

Wes Mason is now retired. He stepped down in 2004. His wife Carol (a previous co-majority owner, along with her husband) retired three years later. The company continues thriving under their sons’ shared leadership, and their combined vision is physically manifested in production capabilities and product. Today, Mason operates from a Decatur-situated manufacturing facility that measures nearly 50,000 square feet. The company’s broad fabrication capabilities – extending up to 15 feet in diameter, 120 feet in length and up to 350,000 pounds – are generally limited only by over dimensional shipping restrictions. “The plant includes a 41-foot high bay, a 750-ton press brake boasts about 120 tons of total overhead crane capacity, and advanced technology such as a CNC plasma burn table,” describes Ty Mason. “It is on six acres and a train runs right up on the site.”

Further, the company’s employee roster includes nearly 50 people savvy to the company’s proffered technology and on board with the stated mission. “Beyond technology, our biggest advantage is our people,” says Mason. “We’ve been in business for a long time, and so have they. Thus, they are a substantial asset.”

Within this site, Mason Manufacturing designs and fabricates heat exchangers, ASME vessels/reactors, columns/towers, rotary dryers and tanks/bins. It also performs custom fabrication.

When it comes to heat exchangers, Mason is capable of designing and fabricating a broad range of shell and heat exchangers to ASME and TEMA specification standards. Exchangers range from the ultra small to the super large (weighing up to 300,000 pounds), and in all phases of heat exchanger and vessel design – from thermal analysis and mechanical engineering to detailed CAD drawings – the company closely collaborates with customers. This assures that completed equipment effectively addresses service requirements.

In the vessel/reactor area, Mason’s certified welders and its accepted procedures meet all the requirements of the ASME and the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. Applications may call for half-pipe coils, dimple jackets, conventional jackets or internal coils, and Mason can cover it all. Meanwhile, its Quality Control Managers work closely with staff and an authorized inspector to assure complete compliance with standards established by both the industry and by Mason, which has established its own high standards.

Mason also fabricates a variety of trayed and packed columns and towers, and it can take a rotary dryer unit from engineering through fabrication while ensuring customers that they need only deal with one source.

As far as tanks and bins, the strategically located Mason enterprise (positioned in the American Midwestern heartland) can ship competitively anywhere throughout the United States and North America. But Mason doesn’t want to limit itself to confining territorial imperative. That’s where the investment comes in.

“While our customers are multinational companies, the bulk of our work has resided in North America,” says Ty Mason. “Now, we’re looking to not only realize growth in our existing markets but also to identify and then gain entrance into new markets. That’s one of the things that Advantage Capital was excited about. They saw that we’re in it for the long haul. And that helped form their investment decision.”

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