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May 28, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Top Five is constantly innovating, still focused on carbon composites

Top Five logo onlyHave you ever been to McDonald, TN? I had not visited the unincorporated community until I took the Ooltewah exit from I-75 and headed northeast toward the new headquarters of Top Five, Inc.

We were in Chattanooga on other business, and Jeff McCay, one of Top Five’s founders, invited us to make a quick detour to see the building and update us on the company’s plans.

McCay and his partners – Dennis Roach and Jim Horton – describe Top Five as a private equity firm investing in a variety of businesses. The company most familiar to people in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area is the Composite Application Group (CAG), which is headquartered in the Halcyon Commercialization Center in the Oak Ridge Science and Technology Park.

CAG was an inaugural member of the Oak Ridge Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium, and McCay has been a strong supporter of Roane State Community College’s efforts to develop a qualified workforce in the carbon fiber and composites area.

We initially profiled Top Five in a article in February 2012 (see The visit to the company’s new headquarters was both enlightening and revealing.

The always upbeat and positive McCay said the Top Five team has learned a great deal about carbon composites since they leased space in the Halcyon Center more than two years ago.

“We are using a blended mix of carbon fiber in our products,” McCay explained, noting the continuing high price for carbon fiber makes it economically unfeasible to use it solely. CAG employs it when it is required, but also incorporates glass fiber and foam core when the more expensive carbon fiber is not necessary.

“The products we are developing, particularly in the transportation sector, don’t exist,” McCay said. CAG’s activities involve a number of joint ventures that McCay has fostered over the last few years.

During our visit, we also learned more about CAG’s NuWave high-end bicycle manufacturing company and its unique crank set based on technology initially developed by Kirk Pacenti, a legendary bike builder. NuWave is one of Top Five’s newest acquisitions, joining CAG, Scenic Industries, a high-end machine and tool company, and Maxwell Industries, a manufacturer of custom fuel tanks and hydraulic reservoir tanks.

The innovative Top Five team has also entered a new market sector – distribution of caskets. Under the name Five Point Distribution, the new venture offers the Genesis line of caskets.

I asked McCay if he planned to start manufacturing caskets out of carbon fiber. His response was something along the lines of “never say never, but they have to get the cost down.”

We suspect the innovative Top Five team will find a way.

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