By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – It all started with a poker game or so the story goes, and today APCOM is the largest manufacturer of water heater components in North America and is celebrating 50 years in business.
APCOM held an employee lunch celebration recently to celebrate the 50 year milestone with city, county and local economic development officials in attendance.
Sam Carver, APCOM vice president of manufacturing, gave an overview of the company’s history beginning with APCOM Franklin, owned by State Industries, Inc.
APCOM Franklin President Mike Grace, who founded APCOM in 1969, hired George F. whom had been working at the Teledyne STILLMAN corporation which was located across the street from Volunteer Tool and Die (which is now APCOM Cookeville). In the mid 1970s, Mike Grace retired due to an illness and George F. became the President of APCOM Franklin.
State Industries asked APCOM to supply spuds to their Ashland City plant. George’s plan was to have State Industries buy Volunteer Tool and Die and purchase 2 new Cold Headers to make spuds with.
“The Cookeville location was the former Volunteer Tool & Die, which started here in Cookeville in 1964, and was owned by Walt Baker and Rodger Garrett,” said Carver. “There were 20 employees at the time.”
In 1982, State Industries bought Volunteer Tool & Die and retained the two former owners to run the facility. Cold Headers and other equipment were brought in and the facility was expanded to 54,000 square feet from its original 5,000 square feet.
“State (Industries, Inc.) invested about $6.9 million in the business here, equipment and building expansions, and then moved the acquisition under the APCOM umbrella,” Carver said.
The next major renovation was the conversion of warehouse space into a break room and bathrooms in 1988. Followed shortly by an expansion for three pits to contain spent oil and provide additional storage in 1989.
“APCOM was acquired by A.O. Smith (Corporation) in 2001,” Carver added.
An additional expansion in 2017 added 6,000 square feet, taking the facility up to 60,000 square feet, providing space to keel lubricants and chemicals away from the manufacturing area.
“Today our Cookeville facility is approximately 60,000 square feet,” Carver said. “They have 110 outstanding employees who make about 34 million wielded spuds annually, 65 million terminals for the thermostats, 700,000 pipe nipples and 900,000 thousand gas burner assemblies for gas fired water heaters.
“That’s quite a bit of work coming out of this facility. So, Volunteer Tool & Die and APCOM today now celebrate 50 years in business, and 50 years of partnering with the City of Cookeville and Putnam County.”
“As you look around this district, you see several great businesses that have evolved and maintained through economic ups and downs. This was actually the first manufacturing district or area in Cookeville,” said Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton. “Volunteer Tool and Die, now APCOM, has been heavily involved in the history of this manufacturing district and continually shows what it means to be a quality business hiring quality people.
“A business such as this can only be successful with great leadership and great employees. Without manufacturing as a strength of our economy we wouldn’t see the small business growth, the downtown redevelopment, the residential growth we’ve experienced over the years.”
Putnam County Mayor Randy Porter commended Mike Grace for having the forethought to create APCOM and in 1982 to buy Volunteer Tool & Die.
“Today the company has three locations across the United States and in other countries – Mexico, China and India,” said Porter. “Manufacturing companies like APCOM continue to be an important part of our community here in Putnam County and an important part of the economy.”
Carter summarized the history of the company and the community by saying, “It is a partnership with the community. They support us and we support them.”
APCOM locations include Cookeville; Franklin; Florence, Kentucky; Mexico; China and India.