OWOSSO TWP. — National Composites Chief Operating Officer and co-owner Adam Fenton is applying the discipline, time-management skills and determination culled from his earlier athletic successes to drive massive growth in the composite industry.
Starting less than two years ago, Fenton, 29, has already transformed the former Owosso National Composites, a small operation that mostly performed work for Crest Marine, into a four-facility powerhouse with 80 clients and two plants in the Owosso area, a tooling plant in Holt and a fiberglass factory in Wyoming, Minnesota.
National Composites is on track this year to exceed $20 million in sales, a dramatic increase. Not only that, the company is planning to purchase a second plant in Holt and build a 25,000-square-foot addition at Great Lakes Composite, its manufacturing plant in Owosso Township.
“Our goal is to purchase another facility every year and expand our geographical footprint,” Fenton said Wednesday at Great Lakes Composite. “With expansion, you are increasing your buying power and you can be more competitive on pricing. We have a saying, ‘130 by 2030’ — that’s $130 million in revenue.
“Our end goal is to become one of the biggest composite manufacturers in the United States.”
Contracts are rolling in but one thing is impairing unleashed growth, he said: a labor shortage that’s partly a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, Troy-based National Composites employs a total of 85 people and is trying to fill 40 open positions, from floor production to management. Right now, 25 jobs are available at Great Lakes Composite alone.
Fenton said his company offers employer ownership and an “incredible (work) culture,” including a clean workplace and a policy of treating employees as craftspeople whose voices are heard, not line workers. Safety is a top priority, he said, with masks and social-distancing rules in place.
He said employees have the satisfaction of knowing they are creating things they see in the world every day, including on fire trucks, road construction equipment, and exterior panels on vehicles and pontoons. The company’s client roster is diverse and includes Disney World, which orders paddle boat molds, some featuring giant swan’s necks.
Employees produce custom fiber-reinforced polymer and thermo-formed products for original equipment manufacturers. Touting itself as a one-stop shop, National Composites’ family of companies can also help with design, prototyping, tooling and fixture-building, pattern-building, along with many molding capabilities.
“It’s amazing what National Composites has done, especially in an economically challenging time,” Justin Horvath, president/CEO of Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership said. “It takes great leadership and great products. This is a good business to work for. They have improved their wages and benefits.”
Fenton was born in Detroit and grew up in Birmingham, where he was an all-state football player at Birmingham Seaholm High School. While he was earning a business degree at Central Michigan University, he was also a fullback on the football team.
After graduating from college, the four-year letter man hired a trainer, aiming for a slot in the National Football League. He said he got a few nibbles but no bites, so instead he joined Team USA bobsled 2014-15, competing in the North American Cup at Lake Placid, New York and Calgary, Alberta in Canada.
“It was incredible,” Fenton said. “I miss it a ton. A lot of great people.”
The experience, he said, also introduced him to fiberglass and composites. The race sleds were made of carbon fiber, the practice sleds fiberglass. They’d get banged up and, on a limited budget, Team USA bobsled members quickly found out it was up to them to repair them.
Around the same time, Fenton joined Red Shelf, his brother’s highly successful edtech firm in Chicago, and stayed four years. Deciding he wasn’t a “Chicago guy,” he returned to Michigan and decided to lead National Composites, which he and his father, former Crest Pontoon co-owner Patrick Fenton, purchased in 2017.
The same year, Adam Fenton married Kaitlyn, who met their first week of college. The couple lives in Clarkston.
In a few years, the company has created the following portfolio of divisions: Excel Pattern and Tool in the Owosso industrial park, Great Lakes Composite, Molded Plastic Industries in Holt and Sunrise Fiberglass in Wyoming, Minnesota.
“The Fentons made a decision to invest their capital in Shiawassee County. It’s a beautiful thing,” Horvath said. “You need people who are willing to put millions and millions of dollars in our community in order to grow and thrive. I personally thank them.
“We have to support companies like National Composite. They’re leading our economic recovery.”
For more information about jobs, visit nationalcomposites.com.