By Carrie Pitzer
New ownership of Smeal Fire Apparatus means changes are in store for the Neligh facility, and those changes may lead to more job opportunities.
Spartan Motors CEO Daryl Adams told the Antelope County News on Wednesday afternoon the $36.3 million acquisition offers a clear statement of their dedication to being a leader in the industry.
"This, to me, shows Spartan is committed to the emergency response business in North America with this acquisition. It doubles the size of our apparatus build and moves Spartan into the top four of fire apparatus builders,” Adams said.
As a $100 million manufacturer of fire apparatus, Smeal’s reputation and branding are key highlights of the acquisition. In fact, Adams said Smeal’s facilities - including the Neligh location - will not only remain open, but they will continue to have the Smeal Fire Apparatus name.
"Give credit to the Smeal family. They wanted to make sure the plants would stay where they are at and we'd keep the Smeal name," Adams said. "That's actually not a problem for us because we like the brand and think it's important. The only thing that might change is on the sign it might read 'Spartan Motors Company' at the bottom in small print."
Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek said any type of acquisition always brings concerns, but after speaking with the Spartan team, he’s excited about the future of the company.
"We feel very comfortable after our conversation with Daryl Adams, CEO of Spartan Motors, that the Neligh location will not only remain open, but that there could be some significant expansion opportunities as Spartan and Smeal continue to grow hand in hand and penetrate the emergency response market in North America,” Ptacek said.
As for the changes planned for the Neligh location, Adams said they echo the vision of the company, which is product-focused plants with Neligh building aerials. He said Smeal is dominant in aerials and has been building them for 50 years, compared to Spartan’s 10 years.
Adams said he visited the Neligh facility during the due diligence process and was impressed by the recent equipment expansion.
“With the Neligh plant, they had great plans for it, as we do," Adams said. "They wanted to start building aerials up there. They bought a new piece of laser equipment and were trying it out while I was there. It's going to make them more efficient, so we're excited to have both of those plants."
Adams said the Snyder plant, which has been the home office of Smeal, is going to be an aerial plant with Neligh offering support “in a bigger way than it ever has because we believe we'll get a lot of orders. We're going to move all of our ladder products to the Snyder plant, and we're going to be building the pumper.”
The reputation of a Smeal ladder is unmatched, Adams said, which is why some customers are already asking to change their orders to include those ladders rather than the Spartan ladders. If the aerial market continues as officials hope, Adams said that could lead to an employee expansion at the Neligh facility.
Juris Pagrabs, director of investor relations at Spartan, said that would also lead to a harder look at how Spartan should invest in its facilities.
"Not only is there a job opportunity, but with it will come a capital investment component," Pagrabs said. "Some of this will come down to, when we make this investment, how do we view Neligh versus our facility in South Dakota.”
Ptacek said Adams and Pagrabs have expressed interest in having conversations about how they could expand in Neligh.
"They were very excited in what programs are available at the state of Nebraska level and at the local level to try to grow some of these jobs. They’re looking for some great talent to fill the increased load they know they are going to have," Ptacek said. "I am very excited about working with Spartan Motors in keeping the Smeal brand in Neligh and Nebraska and growing their company.”
Although the acquisition was announced Tuesday morning to the public, employees were actually the first to know. Adams spent the day of visiting plants in multiple states and started the tour at Smeal’s home office speaking with Snyder and Neligh employees.
"They were driven down in a bus to Snyder from Neligh yesterday morning, and we shared the entire announcement with the entire team at 6:30," he said. "It was important for the Spartan executive team to be there and address the largest (Smeal) plant and both plants in Nebraska."
Adams said he’s been very impressed with the leadership and employee base in the Neligh location.
"The skill they have there with the great employees is what we were impressed with — the way the operate and weld. It's actually the entire operational team that we're excited with and looking forward to integrating them into the Spartan family,” he said.
Adams said the company hopes to close the transaction in January 2017.