MANSFIELD - Mark Hess — who as a teen turned a fascination for machinery into a roadside business, working with his grandfather to make and sell two-wheeled carts off Ohio 39 — fell in love with the machine trades.This fall, he moved his 16-year-old company, Hess Industries Lt., out of space rented from Braintree, to a gutted and "totally renovated" building.The business, at 108 Sawyer Parkway in Mansfield's industrial park, is sited on 18 acres, with room to expand."That's the kind of businesses we need here" — small, successful businesses, capable of growth, said Mansfield Economic Development Director Tim Bowersock.
"It took me 16 years to graduate," Hess joked during a Christmas party Friday for entrepreneurs associated with Braintree, the Mansfield-based small business incubator.Hess grew up with an aptitude for mechanical work.He recalls getting into challenge matches with a brother, in which they took bicycles apart to see which contained the most parts. Then they'd put the bikes back together, trying to improve them.
As a teen, he went into business with his grandfather, Howard Fulton, a machine shop supervisor at "the pottery" (Mansfield Plumbing Products in Perrysville). "My grandfather and I made two-wheel dolly carts. We would go out to Milliron and find treasures. We would sell the carts on Ohio 39, at my (other) grandmother's house."Those skills in parts-scrounging and salvaging would be put to work later, when he started Hess Industries, helping him save money by buying some used equipment and making repairs.
Hess attended Pioneer Career and Technology Center, then earned an associate's degree in mechanical engineering from North Central State College. He mastered his trade over several jobs, working for Ralph Phillips while in high school; for Richard Taylor, whom he considered a mentor: and for the Fanellos at Shiloh Industries.Hess was promoted to supervisor by age 21, and tool room manager by 24.When he turned 30, he and his wife Pam, also a Pioneer grad, committed to starting their family business. "We sold everything we had," putting the equity into Hess Industries Ltd.
The company got off the ground in June 1999, initially operating out of 1,800 square feet of space leased from Braintree, and expanding into additional space in later years."Early on, we invested heavily in technology," Mark Hess said.The company made use of computer numerical control processes, using 3-D modeling "very early" in that technology. "I could tell that was what the future was going to be. We were one of the first shops to get into it," Hess said.That investment allowed the company to work much more efficiently to cash in on consumer preferences, which trended away from boxy shapes toward sleeker, curvy designs in cars and appliances.
Customers of the tool and die company eventually included large appliance makers such as Whirlpool, automakers, and lawn and garden equipment manufacturers, as well as second- and third-tier businesses that supply brand name manufacturers.Hess credits his workers for staying current, training in new skills, and in some cases working with the developers of new technologies while new equipment is still in development. "If it wasn't for the employees and their efforts to move forward, we wouldn't be where we are at right now," he said.Hess Industries has opened its doors to other local companies interested in training their own workers in fresh technologies. "Our competitors aren't right down the street. Our competitors are across the ocean," Mark Hess said. "I believe that companies (here) have to help each other out, to keep jobs in the states."The company makes use of apprenticeship programs, and has found part of its current workforce of 11 among the graduates of Pioneer, where Mark Hess has served on the precision machining advisory board for 17 years. He also takes part in NCSC's engineering advisory board.
In November, Hess shut the business down for a little over two weeks, to accomplish the move from its old quarters on the east side of the Braintree complex.The new quarters, a fully renovated building at 108 Sawyer Parkway, encompass 15,000 square feet, about 3,000 more than he had available before.Friday, the tool and die company owner acknowledged the support he got from his wife and family over years in which he worked long hours. "There were times when the family came here, to have dinner with me, so that I could have dinner with them, and then go back to work," he said.Hess said he'll continue to serve on the non-profit board that runs the incubator."I'm still going to be a voice for you guys," he told entrepreneurs he'd come to know over the years. "My door is always going to be open, to any of you. It has been fun to see you guys grow your businesses," he said.