MAGNA TECH, Inc is recognized as the 2001 Chanute Business of the Year

July 10, 2001

In 1995, David and Cheryl Orr were set to slow down with thoughts of semi-retirement. They bought a Nu-Wa camper and made plans to spend part of the year in Yuma, Ariz. and buy a home in Chanute to spend the rest of the year here, closer to David's children, Taverli, now 19, and a student at Emporia State University, and DeShon, 17, who will be a junior next year at Chanute High School. David and Cheryl were living in Victor, Iowa where David and co-partner Terry Jack had founded Magna Tech, an industry manufacturing towing accessories.
I was clicking my little red slippers and thinking, there's no place like home, there's no place like home, David said. I wanted to come back to my hometown. His children were growing up, heading into their high school years. They spent a lot of time with us in Iowa when they were little, but now that they were teenagers, it was harder for them to visit. They wanted to be with their friends more, Cheryl said. We knew if we were going to be a part of their lives the way we wanted to, we had to live closer.

Six years after founding Magna Tech, the business had grown from five employees working in a 7,000 square foot building to 15 workers and production space of 24,000 square feet, plus a 12,400 square foot assembly and warehouse facility and a new 3,000 square foot office building. Sales broke the $1 million mark. Business was strong, but the pull from Chanute was stronger. Plans were made to sell both the agriculture and towing sides of Magna Tech. Everything was falling into place for the couple to move to Chanute and take life a little slower. Then, David got a call from a long-time friend who had been foreman for the local industry, Tolle Manufacturing. The company was closing. Was David interested in buying it? He was. After all, the couple had only been planning to semi retire. The business buying Magna Tech was primarily interested in the ag division, so David retained the towing end of the industry, bought Tolle Manufacturing and moved his business to Chanute. At that time, Magna Tech was manufacturing about 1,000 different items. The inventory list now includes 2,186 different accessories for the towing industry, and the business sells to leading companies across the nation and in 13 foreign countries.

Orders come from faxes, e-mails, letters, phone calls and over the Internet. Magna Tech, located in the Safari Industrial Park, now employs 19 some from the former Tolle Manufacturing Company. The Orr's can't find enough positive words to say about their employees. If it hadn't been for them, we would have failed, David said. We have good people, quality people. We communicate and work together. There's a loyalty between us. I respect them; they respect me. David is president of the corporation and Cheryl is vice president. With a master's degree in social work, helping to organize the shipping department has been a switch for her. It's a big change a big, big change, she admits, but is proud of what the two have accomplished here.

Other key personnel are Jana Dunn, comptroller; Dan Call, plant foreman; Harold Trent, assistant plant foreman; Claude Westhoff, welding foreman; and Alan Green. Alan doesn't have a title and he doesn't need one. I can't say enough about him. He keeps the plant running,  David said. Also, David's father, Gene, 85, works almost daily at the plant, helping out where needed. The Orr's are also quick to credit the City of Chanute and the state for helping Magna Tech achieve the growth it has.

We would not have been able to stay competitive in the marketplace without the tax abatements from the City of Chanute, training assistance grants from the state of Kansas and a good working relationship with Young's Welding,  David said. Were glad we made the move to Chanute, he said. I can't say the last five years have been easy, though. Orr got his start in working with vehicles at the body shop at Merle Kelly Ford. Through the years, he's worked in several different family-owned businesses, including Orr's Color Center, primarily working with paint and coating for cars.  My dream was always to design the perfect car, he said. He spend hours drawing, sketching, designing on paper, then took his designs into the towing industry.

Since coming to Chanute, he has designed and patented two designs a ratchet dolly and an RV slide-out stabilizer. The industry focuses on contract manufacturing for a base; the towing accessories are now extra business. I've never known a time when the towing industry was level, David said. It's always up and down. The contract work is more stable. Business has grown through Internet sales, especially to foreign markets, continued diversification and expansion of contract manufacturing. Magna Tech recently designed a tow hitch for the dolly used by NASA to move the space shuttle rocket booster. I see a major market opening through that, David said. We're building a relationship with NASA, getting our foot in the door. Through that contact, Well never be a large, corporate conglomerate,  David said. "We don't want to be. "Bigger is not necessarily better."
Jackie Witherspoon
Chanute Tribune Editor
July 10, 2001


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