Eagle Manufacturing Group may not be a household name in the Miami area, but people walking along the city’s streets are likely to step on some of Eagle’s products every day.
The Hialeah-based parent company of a diversified industrial group, Eagle makes a range of iron, steel and concrete products, including manhole covers still used in downtown Miami that date back to the 1930s. “Our manhole covers are in thousands of cities,” said Ronn A. Page, who took over as Eagle’s CEO in 2012.
Eagle, which has four subsidiaries, also makes steel gratings, doors and a wide range of custom metal equipment for industrial and commercial applications, as well as concrete pipes and other concrete products used in public works and private construction projects in Florida and other states. Aside from manhole covers and gratings used for drainage, Eagle’s subsidiaries sell precast and prestressed concrete products to city and county governments, steel access doors and metal gratings to commerce and industry and a range of custom-designed metal products to contractors, distributors and end users.
“Our products last forever … we’re not too smart,” said Alex L. DeBogory, Eagle’s executive chairman of the board, president and grandson of the company’s founder, Alex DeBogory Sr., a machinist who worked on construction of the Florida East Coast Railway and started up the 7th Street Bicycle Repair and Welding Company in Miami in 1916. Yet the family-owned company, in business now for 97 years, has been as durable as its long-lasting products, having weathered the Great Depression, the Great Recession and a collapse in construction, a key market for much of its product line.
As Miami expanded and demand increased for iron and steel products used in municipal, housing and industrial projects, DeBogory Sr. expanded beyond the original bicycle repair and welding shop, adding a foundry in 1937 to make castings for the city and buying machinery to fabricate steel and aluminum products. Alex DeBogory Jr. went to work at the family foundry in the 1950s and the family set up the precast concrete business in the late 1960s. Alex L. DeBogory, the founder’s grandson, began his career with the company in the early 1970s in the concrete subsidiary.
At the beginning of this year, the company, formerly known as U.S. Holdings Inc., rebranded itself as Eagle Manufacturing Group.
"Eagle Manufacturing is an important player in Miami’s manufacturing sector and demonstrates that when manufacturing is specialized – like in the case of Eagle – it can be successful here,” said Jaap Donath, senior vice president of research and strategic planning at the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development agency. “Manufacturing has a role to play in Miami, but only certain types and levels of manufacturing can make it. We have a good sized manufacturing sector here. Sometimes the companies are not household names, but they make important products and pieces of other products.”
Over the years, as the company grew and consistently reinvested profits in its operations, the owners sometimes saved money on capital equipment by buying used machinery and refurbishing it using the foundry and metal fabricating facilities. Today, Eagle continues to reinvest in new equipment and technology in order to maintain a competitive edge. The foundry, for example, uses the latest software and laboratory equipment to ensure product quality while the concrete business offers a range of specialized products for marine, highway, bridge, drainage and construction projects that require technological expertise.
“The company has invested about $15 million over the last three years alone for new tooling and other projects that improve our production capacity and keep us competitive,” said CEO Page. “In 2012-2013, we’re investing about $2 million in the foundry to produce special sizes and shapes for our customers.” Page came to Eagle as the COO in 2010 from Metal Technologies, a large manufacturer of cast metal products in Auburn, Ind., where he was senior vice president. He credited the company’s success over the years to the DeBogory family’s commitment to reinvestment, and to low turnover among the skilled workforce.
“These two factors have been a big plus for us,” said Page. “We rely heavily on skilled workers in all our companies and many employees have been with us for an average of 20 years.”
Eagle’s foundry, previously called U.S. Welding and Iron Works, is the sole survivor among industrial foundries in the Miami metropolitan area, the company said. For decades, it competed with a number of other foundries located within Miami’s city limits. By the mid-1960s, federal environmental regulations for foundries were becoming more stringent and the company realized that it would be difficult expand in central Miami. The company decided to move the foundry to Medley and install the most advanced anti-pollution equipment, Alex L. DeBogory said. At that time, the part of Medley where they located “was a swamp,” the Eagle executive said.
The move proved to be fortuitous. Not only was the company able to expand its foundry and move other operations to the Medley-Hialeah area, but the facility — which melts metals, casts it into different shapes and generates heat and fumes — left the downtown area and strict environmental controls which eventually forced other foundries to close, he said.
The last few years have proven difficult for Eagle and other companies in the same business.
“Housing makes up about 40 percent of our business,” Page said, and that sector is still weak. “From 2007 until today, we’ve faced the toughest environment I’ve seen throughout my career,” he added. Competition has been stiff both from other U.S. producers, as well as low-cost and low-quality products from India and China, which don’t need to comply with regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA, he added.
But Eagle has placed more stress on public sector work and has added sales staff to offer new metal products in the U.S. and export markets such as Europe, Dubai, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
The results so far have been positive. Page said that group revenues last year reached over $100 million and that currently sales are running about 10 percent above last year. The goal is to grow revenues by 13 percent this year.
Dealing with a very difficult economy is the company’s biggest challenge, Page said, but complex federal environmental and other regulations – especially from the current administration – hamper business and the development of new product lines.
“Even though this has been a recession from hell, we’ve been growing both in revenues and employment,” the CEO said. Currently, Eagle employs more than 530 people, up from 360 in 2009. The headcount in 2007, as the recession was starting to be felt, was more than 700.
Eagle executives say that being based in Miami is positive for the company in several ways. They are close to important markets in Florida and have access to a high-quality, multi-lingual workforce. Moreover, Florida has no state income tax and is a business-friendly state.
The disadvantage is the high cost of transportation, since Eagle’s heavy merchandise has to be moved by truck or train up the peninsula to reach markets in the eastern and central states. (Eagle’s concrete operations in the Miami and West Palm Beach areas are located near potential customers. Moving bulky concrete structures for long distances in not economical.)
Eagle clients say they do business with the company because they offer quality products at competitive prices. Nedrow & Associates of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a company supplying pumps, valves and other equipment used in pumping and treating water and wastewater, has been working with Eagle subsidiary USF Fabrication since the early 1980s, purchasing stainless steel and aluminum pipes as well as big tubes for water systems from the South Florida company.
“They use state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and are very innovative when we need a particular product,” said company owner Jack Nedrow. “They provide quality products and can negotiate a better price than other companies,” he added.
Murray Logan Construction, a specialty contractor based in West Palm Beach, buys precast concrete pipes and structures from Eagle’s United Concrete Products division. “We are very pleased with their products,” said Kurt Kapsos, project manager at the company, which does heavy construction work such as canal revetment, building concrete culverts and other structures.
“They’re located both in Miami and West Palm Beach and we buy all of our prestressed construction products from them. They are very competitive and that gives them an edge.”