Colmac is homegrown success

Colmac is a home-grown success

The two Colmac plants in Colville are world leaders in their respective manufacturing fields and both are looking for more team members.
“We want to get the word out that we’re a good place to work and we are hiring. It doesn’t matter what your skillset is, we will train you,” said Joe Fazzari, president of Colmac Coil.
The plant established in 1971 produces commercial and industrial heating and refrigeration units. There are nearly 200 employees.
“If you are willing to learn, have a good attitude and work well with others, we want to hire you. You can start a career with a high school education and move into management because of our training,” said Fazzari.
Justin Shamion is president of the smaller Colmac Industries, which is the original venture of the McMillan family and employs about 50 people. The plant established in 1959 manufactures laundry finishing machines for large-scale commercial operations.
“We are looking for several more people,” said Shamion.
At both factories, there are vacancies for welders, electrical technicians, general assembly and machine operators.
Colmac Industries and Colmac Coil are located on Lincoln Street and, although the buildings are fairly nondescript, big things are happening inside – really big things.
The machines built in both plants are not for home use, they are massive units that are custom designed to meet the specific requirements of each customer. Orders come in all shapes and sizes so the engineers on staff are kept busy designing new models.
“Everything we do is custom and that's our place in the market,” said Fazzari. “We're not necessarily the lowest priced supplier, but we're the best.”
Shamion said every machine produced in his plant is steam-tested to ensure all components are working right before it is shipped out. He said the attention to detail and commitment to quality have built confidence in the products sold by Colmac.
“Everything is tested to the actual real world conditions,” he said.
Colmac Industries has received the Department of Energy's top award for actively pursuing energy-saving opportunities. Shamion said the company is committed to finding new ways to accomplish that goal.
Innovation and the ability to look ahead at where the industry is headed has allowed both companies to succeed even during times of recession when many others failed, said owner Scott McMillan, whose grandfather, Jerry, was the inventor who started it all.
Jerry designed a lawnmower blade sharpener and a car-top boat loader, as well as other devices, before he came up with the Coverall-Matic machines that he began selling in 1957 under the name Columbia Machine or Columbia Industries.
The Coverall-Matic increased the efficiency of Jerry's rental laundry routes that ran all the way to Spokane, which led to higher production.
When Jerry discovered another company was using the same name, he shortened the name of his brand to “Colmac.” Other laundries and cleaners became customers and Jerry signed an agreement with American Laundry Machinery to market the machines worldwide — and the business exploded.
By 1960, there were over 200 Colmac Industries machines in service, some as far away as Europe.
Jerry didn’t stop there. He designed more machines. There was the Pant-a-Matic, the first automated pants press that did both legs in one step. Then came the Connie, a form finisher that was specially designed to clean new synthetic fabrics and blends, which later came to be known as Polyester or Polycotton.
By the time the 1970s rolled around, Colmac had a full line of products for garment manufacturing, rental and dry cleaning.
One of the new products was the Tunnel-Matic finisher. The machine used steam for hot-air ironing of garments that were hung on a conveyor belt and passed through the tunnel to get pressed.
Jerry found that standard HVAC-style heating coils didn’t hold up well in that machine, so he ordered all the equipment necessary to produce his own fins and tubes for new steam coils.
By that time, Jerry’s son, Roger, had joined the company and he was put in charge of building a manufacturing plant for the coils.
Soon, Colmac was selling its Tunnel-matic to U.S. Navy for warships and other big enterprises.
Jerry was denied being able to see where his company was headed when he was killed on June 3, 1974, in an airplane crash. He had long been a pilot and had set out on that day with his wife and two friends for a weekend fishing trip on the Washington coast. It was his first flight in a brand new twin engine plane. He flew into bad weather near Mt. St. Helens and, at some point, one wing completely separated from the plane. Everyone inside was killed in the crash.
Roger was tasked, at the age of 32 with taking over the family business. He relied heavily on long-time employees who were able to design and build the machines that had made Colmac a leader in the industry.
Flatwork ironers became part of the Colmac line and research was done into energy-saving heating methods, including a Natural Gas direct-fired tunnel finisher. Roger brought in more engineers to figure out how to harness this new energy source.
The Colmac Coil division took off and, in 1980, expanded into industrial refrigeration units, increasing the technical aspects of machines as well as their size. A 24,000 foot expansion to that plant was finished that year to accommodate space needs.
During the 1980s, national companies formed uniform rental networks that required the output of Colmac’s machines. Garment manufacturing changed and jeans became wildly popular. Colmac partnered with the Lee Company and built hundreds of new Pant-A-Matics adapted for jean processing.
During the 1990s, large national companies were renting uniforms and Colmac developed a computerized hangering system that carried clothes on conveyor systems through the Tunnel-matic so they emerged ready to wear.
Scott had graduated with a degree in economics from Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland and gone to work for another manufacturer on the West Coast by the time that Roger began thinking about retirement after 30 years of leadership.
“Dad didn’t push me to come back, he was pretty opened minded,” said Scott.
He had grown up in Colmac and begun working in the mail room when he was in his early teens. Like most young adults, he had wanted to make his own way in the world so he worked for nine to 10 hours a day for low wages at a plant that made wood and pellet stoves for five years after college.
“I think I learned more about economics after my degree than before,” he said.
What he realized during that time, said Scott, was that he missed the quality of life in Northeastern Washington – and he missed being connected to Colmac.
“It’s what I knew and it made a lot of sense to do what I knew,” he said.
The 1991 recession had tested Colmac and Scott came onboard in 1996 to help get things at Colmac back on level ground.
Then the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 that sent the American economy into a tailspin and slowed many capital investments.
Scott relied on the innovative spirit of the companies to get them through an even tougher economic situation. He began to ask company administrators and employees, “What are we doing today that means we’re still in business 10 years from now, 20 years from now?”
That question led to the 2009 purchase of the Colmac Coil Midwest manufacturing facility in Paxton, Illinois. That acquisition allowed the company to expand its network of sales representatives through the U.S. and Canada, which increased both domestic and international growth.
“Buying that facility from a competitor gave us national legitimacy and opened a window for larger jobs,” said Scott.
One of the new machines built by Colmac Coil was so large that it had to be exported to the job site (an oil well in Chad, Africa) on a huge Russian cargo jet.
As Colmac acquired technology to sell more automated products, Scott began to travel overseas to line up new customers.
Jerry had been big on exports, earning the President’s “E” Award in 1966 for that vision. Scott followed his lead and Colmac began to sell large refrigeration units for rooftops that allowed commercial users to save space inside their buildings.
Coil eventually landed its largest project ever, a fresh air cooling system for the Dubai airport expansion. It took 17 large ocean containers and four months of production to get the coils delivered in 2007.
“Scott makes us think outside the box,” affirmed Fazzari. “He encourages innovation and that’s how we’ve grown.”
For more information on Colmac Coil jobs, call 590-684-2595 or visit colmaccoil.com.
To learn more about career opportunities at Colmac Industries, call 509-684-4505 or access colmacind.com.