April 6, 2016

From the playground to the pros

Louisville's Dant Clayton adds railing to its burgeoning stadium seating business

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If you’re a sports fan and like to watch your favorite team in person, you can likely thank Dant Clayton for improving your gameday experience. From professional sporting venues all the way down to your child’s Little League field, the Louisville-based company may well be responsible for manufacturing and installing your favorite seat to watch a game.

Ken Merrick and his son Bruce got their start on the playground with Play Systems of Kentucky in 1973 – later known as Clayton Company – with nine employees working local park and recreation projects before Dant Clayton was established in 1979. Today, the company has more than 150 employees and provides seating and press boxes for numerous high school, college and professional sporting venues.

Dant Clayton entered in the stadia business with the acquisition of a Georgia-based company that manufactured aluminum bleachers, eventually taking on I-beam style advanced seating and growing into one of the most recognized names in the industry.

Its 350,000-square-foot campus includes an aluminum plant on Algonquin Parkway and a steel plant and office space on Bernheim Lane.

The company has done work for the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Indiana University, Ohio State University and various MLB and NFL teams, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Current projects include work with Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 100th Indy 500 and with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., where Dant Clayton installed its patent-pending Long Span Aluminum Stadia System, which can be piped with concrete for sound deadening.

Even after reaching such heights, Dant Clayton President and CEO Keith Williams said the company maintains its focus on working with the local community.

“It’s very, very important,” Williams said of the continued work on small-scale projects. “The Dant Edge product is targeted at parks, smaller bleachers, tennis courts for schools, small soccer fields for kids in elementary school. We’re very involved in the smaller product markets.”

While Dant Clayton will continue to work on those small-scale projects, substantial growth in recent years has led to a natural progression of the company to take on more responsibility for its major clients. In late 2015, that led the company to acquire a major railing manufacturer.

“The company we purchased was called Tuttle Railing System. They have 60 years of experience, so this is a high-quality product that they have developed and honed,” said Amanda Caufield, sales administration manager at Dant Clayton. “Adding these products to our overall offering presents a substantial growth opportunity across various markets.”

Tuttle now operates as a division of Dant Clayton. It was previously based in Fishers, Ind. and specialized in the waste water, civil infrastructure and education markets, a much broader scope than Dant Clayton’s focus on sports stadiums up to this point.

Williams said the company now has all the tools needed to provide full service to stadium owners, and all that’s left is to leap to action.

“If you go back three or four years ago, we were in the stadia and the bleacher business. Then we added a product called Dant Edge, which is more of a standard product for us. The third offering was the press box, which is in its third year of production. Now, this is our first year in railing. I would say our plate is full. I think the growth will come just through execution. We don’t need to go find something else at the moment. We need to execute all these nice things we’ve been able to find over the last three or four years,” Williams said.

“In 1979, landing projects at the high schools level for Dant was big,” added Caufield. “Now we’re in professional sports, and we’re looking to figure out what outside of the seating structure we can do, and that’s what this railing opportunity has allowed us to do.”

The Tuttle acquisition already created nearly 30 jobs since December, including positions for 22 Kentucky residents. The welding portion alone of Tuttle could create an additional 25 to 30 full-time jobs in the near future.

Dant Clayton got a jumpstart on the hiring process, sending representatives to speak with students at Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), resulting in nine hires following four weeks of training. The company has even begun exploring the Kentucky Federation for Advance Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a workforce development program sponsored by the Cabinet for Economic Development, private-sector companies and Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges, to gauge if the program could meet Dant Clayton’s objectives.

Williams said hiring initiatives, such as the one with JCTC, are essential in establishing the new division within the company with the smoothest transition possible.

“It’s significant to us – as we’re moving a company from Indianapolis to Louisville – to be able to justify the cost of the move and to be able to get a clean start here and not have any additional strain or stress on the business,” Williams said. “It’s a key part of our strategy to get the business moved here.”

Throughout the process of the railing acquisition, Dant Clayton worked closely with local economic development officials and the Cabinet, a process Williams described as seamless. The result helped the company quickly turn its acquisition into actual production.

Dant Clayton has long been an innovator in its industry – a fact only magnified by its expansion into railing production. The company continues to grow and bring its products to stadiums across the nation.

The next time you’re at the big game, taking in the sights and sounds, you’ll know a growing Kentucky company had a major part in making that gameday experience possible.

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