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Weekend edition June 24, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Protomet’s two facilities have allowed the company to continue to grow and support the marine industry

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

More than nine years ago, we first spotlighted Protomet and Jeff Bohanan, its Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in this March 2013 article. At the time, the company was 16 years old, having started as an engineering consulting firm in the old Tech 20/20 incubator in Oak Ridge before seizing on an opportunity to manufacture a seatbelt system for Mercedes Benz.

Today, much of the company’s work is for the marine industry, not just for the cluster of boating manufacturers in and near Vonore. “We ship all over the U.S. – Florida, California, Texas, Indiana and Michigan,” Bohanan says.

We had the opportunity to catch-up with the company’s long-time CEO recently and learned about all of the growth and progress Protomet has made including now operating from two locations – the original one in the Bethel Valley Industrial Park in Oak Ridge and a newer, much larger facility in Loudon. One thing that has remained constant, however, is something Bohanan told us in 2013 about his two guiding principles – integrity and persistence or stick-to-itiveness.

“You cannot take shortcuts with integrity,” he said at the time and reinforced recently.

Today, Protomet proudly proclaims on its website that the company is a “one-stop shop, leading with design and ideation, progressing towards rigorous engineering, and ending with full service manufacturing that molds to your supply chain.”

We met Bohanan at the new Loudon location (pictured here) and toured the sizable facility that allows adequate room for the various operations and for future expansion. The company brought its previously outsourced powder coating operation inside once the Loudon space was available and also launched a wiring harness business for the thousands of boat towers it builds.

“Our biggest challenge is getting the raw materials we need for that operation,” Bohanan said.

The anodizing operation was automated in the new Loudon facility while the Oak Ridge operation is still manual.

Protomet uses about one-half of the former Maremont Exhaust Systems Building that Bohanan and others purchased in 2017; the balance of the floorspace is leased to an automotive supplier. With 244,000 square feet available for its operations, Protomet Loudon is roughly six times the size of its original location in Oak Ridge. The new plant includes a large area for “all hands” meetings as well as a spacious employee gym.

On the day we visited, Bohanan’s team was preparing for a career fair at the Loudon location with a specific target being machine operators.

“We have about 240 employees,” he told us, adding, “We need about 260. We’ll train you.”

Noting that “manufacturing has been viewed in the past by many as dirty work,” Bohanan says that those who have been employed in the retail and service sectors are now looking at manufacturing these days.

“We focus on culture and being a good place to work,” he says. One example is the priority that Protomet places on longevity with the company along with “Perennial Growth” for its customers and employees. For example, Bohanan explains that employees who hit the three-year mark qualify for a bonus double the amount for less senior employees, and those who have been with Protomet at least six years are rewarded with a bonus three times the standard amount.

Because the Loudon facility is newer, one would expect that employee tenure there is not as high as it is in the Oak Ridge plant, and that would be a correct assumption. “Our average tenure at the Bethel Valley site is more than double the Loudon location,” Bohanan says.

Looking back on the expansion, he adds, “We stuck our neck way out. The pandemic put a lot of demand on our industry, and we have been able to respond.”

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