Benton City company does heavy lifting

BENTON CITY -- A small manufacturer in Benton City is doing the heavy lifting for several well-known elevator companies.

Rick Vice's Elevator Manufacturing makes hydraulic elevators, which are used mostly in the nation's commercial buildings that are up to four stories high.

Global companies such as Otis, which generated $11.7 billion in revenue last year, and KONE, which had annual net sales of $4.7 billion euros in the same period, often seek his help to design and build their elevators.

His company makes hydraulic jack assemblies, passenger and freight platforms and slings, cab assemblies, seismic guide rail brackets that hold an elevator to a building, pit ladders, pump units and oil line accessories for hydraulic assemblies.

Last year, Elevator Manufacturing also began making elevator entrance frames and doors and repairing jack assemblies, Vice, a 1986 Prosser High School graduate, said. That helped the company, which employs eight, make a profit despite the huge slump in commercial construction, he said. The privately-held company generates up to $1 million in annual sales.

But he's not in a hurry to expand. His goal is eventually to computerize his operations , half of which are manual, to promote efficiency.

To be tucked away in a two-acre patch in a small town is "a tremendous advantage," he said. "We don't have the distractions of a big city."

Before starting his own firm, Vice worked for years as a welder at his grandfather's elevator manufacturing facility in California.

The Benton City facility was built in 2001 as part of his grandfather's Winter & Bain Co., which became Elevator Manufacturing in 2004 when Vice became a partner.

Quality and safety are the most important elements of his business, Vice said, adding it's a challenging task.

"In the last seven years, we haven't done two identical elevators. Everything is custom and specialized," said Vice, a self-taught computer design expert.

Hydraulic elevators are cheaper to install compared with overhead traction elevators, which require cables and pulleys, he said. A hydraulic elevator can be retrofitted into a building to comply with legally mandated accessibility rules, he said.

Hydraulic elevators travel at about 125 feet a minute. In contrast, a traditional cable and pulley elevator goes about 500 to 600 feet a minute, he said.

It takes about 10 working days to finish a hydraulic elevator unit at his facility, he said.

All of the machine work is done in-house. We do everything except electrical controls," he said.

He is operating at 60 percent capacity, primarily because there is no new construction happening even in big cities, Vice said. "New construction is dead."

He is relying on work to manufacture hydraulic elevator parts and fix broken ones. Upgrades to old buildings are keeping his workers busy.

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