5001 Tremont Ave. and 1515 E. Kimberly Road
Total Investment: $2.7 million
Total Public Investment:$30,000 IEDC High Quality Jobs Program
Jobs Created: 11-15 (Grace) 3-5 (Letter2Word)
Status: Expansion in progress
Philip Allen is a serial entrepreneur who grew Grace Engineered Products Inc. from a virtual one-man operation into a global manufacturer of electrical safety devices employing 25 here in Davenport. Now, he plans to not only expand that business and add up to 15 new employees, but is helping nurture a start-up called Letter2Word.
Grace is a worldwide leader in electrical safety products, especially the GracePort panel interface connectors, which allow users to either service an electrical cabinet without opening its panels or at least determine whether it is safe to open from the outside. Allen pioneered the application of Safeside voltage indicators into lock-out, tag-out procedures, which help improve worker safety while working on electrical equipment. Customers of this Davenport-based company include such giants as Ford Motor Co., Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark.
The company started in 1993, when Allen and some associates were working on a friction welder retrofit project at John Deere. Work was needed on a relatively dangerous machine with an interface in the front and an electrical panel with a 250 horsepower drive and a 400 amp main feed inconveniently located at the rear. The only way to access the machine for maintenance was to open the doors, but the maintenance supervisor understood this caused a potential hazard.
"The supervisor insisted they keep the door closed," said Allen. "The end result was the panel interface connector, which would become an industry standard."
Now, the company sells all over the world.
"We just got an order for 40 units from Italy and another large order for Australia." About 20 percent of the company's product is exported, about half of it to Canada. This growth, both internationally and domestically, drove the decision to expand. Allen has purchased a building at 1515 E. Kimberly Road, which will house a mix of expanded Grace operations as well as the new and growing Letter2Word operations. The Iowa Economic Development Association board awarded the company $30,000 in direct financial assistance and tax benefits through its High Quality Jobs Program, due to the increase in employment that will result from the expansion.
Grace Engineered Product's unique process - Allen holds several U.S. and international patents for thru-panel electrical safety devices - allow it to mass produce customized products.
"We can get a specific order in one day, even with a specialized logo, and have it out the door the following day in most cases," Allen said.
The 15 or so new employees he hopes to add later this fall will come into a workplace that values employee engagement. It's a pet-friendly office, and several dogs can be seen wandering around at any given time. There is a large, warmly decorated break room and the factory floor and inventory bay are bright, clean and neat. To qualify for the IEDC incentives, starting wages start at $17.47 an hour and include full health benefits.
Allen said he chose to expand in Davenport both because of convenience and because of its outstanding workforce.
"We have good, hardworking people who show up on time, do their jobs and don't quit," he said. "The city was also very responsive and helped us work with the state."
Another reason space was getting tight was due to the growth of Letter2Word, a startup home and business design and decor company co-founded by Allen's wife Jane, her friend Sally Dailey and Dailey's daughter Shannon Evans. The company creates hand-painted words and phrases that can be hung indoors or outdoors to share unique messages. The letters are created on the same precision cutting machines that Grace uses for its products, making the businesses perfect for co-existing.
Sally said the company has already secured several large accounts, and will need to add 3 to 5 new employees at the new location on Kimberly Avenue to meet the demand for product delivered this spring.
"We have just had such a great working relationship with Phil and his staff," she said. "He calls it cross-pollination of business and it really seems to work."
Allen said he is an entrepreneur at heart who loves innovation, so stand by for more business ventures in Davenport going forward.