Sunday, November 13, 2005

Entrepreneurial Enid

“They were working in Oklahoma City for Hormel, but decided to start up their own business. They looked around the state and one of their father-in-laws said, ‘You ought to look at Enid, because there are good people there and you are going to need good people in order to grow your business.’ So they moved here and began Advance Foods. Their first product was a chicken fried steak product.” Brian Hayden, VP of HR and Risk Management for Advance Foods ( told me when I was in Enid, OK (population 47,045) keynoting the Business & Industry Forum of Autry Tech.

Advance, which started with eight people in Enid in 1973, today has 1800 employees in the town with expansion plans that will add another 500. The company, with plants in IA, PA, TN and five in Enid has $470 million in sales from over 3,000 products, with plans to more than double to $1 billion in the next five years. It is run by Greg Allen whose dad Paul Allen and Dave McLaughlin started the business and still own it. They specialize in frozen food products. One of their specialties is Philly Style Steak where they control 70% of the $200 million market. If you go to Philadelphia and eat a Philly Steak Sandwich, there is a good chance that the meat came from Enid.

If you are in the spice blending business or have the expertise to start such an operation, Advance is looking for one to locate in Enid. I’d love to be the catalyst for another new business, so let me know if you want to put a plant in Enid.

Enid has been blessed with other companies that have started and developed in the town. Groendyke Trucking with 1700 trucks is run by second generation John Groendyke. Harold Hamm started Continental Resources in the town and has 1,500 employees there with plans to do a public offering in the near future. There were numerous other entrepreneurial companies that I found as the backbone of Enid in my short visit and tour.

Enid was hit hard by the oil crash of the 1980s. In addition to losing a number of drilling and oil service business, it also lost Champlin Refining, which was started and owned in Enid but was sold to Union Pacific Railroad which quickly closed it. The population of Enid fell by over 10% in the 1980s but is now on the upswing.

The town was founded in 1893 during the land rush days and was a key stopping point on the Chisholm Trail from Texas to the railroad in Wichita, KS. Wheat was the key agricultural crop and the town has a half dozen or more gigantic elevators. I wrote about my experience with first seeing these “Cathedrals on the Prairie” in a May 26, 2005 blog.

Enid is looking to the future with plans for a new Entrepreneurial Center that Autry Tech, a wonderfully diverse technical school is putting the finishing touches on. Its president, Dr. Jim Strate is an energetic, visionary leader who understands the importance of economic development for Enid and the region. He has turned Autry Tech from an 8 to 4 classroom focused center into one that is geared toward industry with classes on a 24-hour basis, often on site at plants.

Dr. Strate and Enid Mayor Ernie Currier have a focus upon growing the economy of Enid and the region. They are leveraging some existing businesses like Advanced Foods and Vance Air Force Base, which specializes in pilot training, to strategically focus upon value-added food production and aviation related companies. Ground will be broken this spring on a $72 million ethanol plant, the first in OK, and plans are in the works for a biodiesel facility. They’ve also contracted with a company to research profitable businesses where the owner is nearing retirement age. They hope to buy some of these businesses, moving them to Enid.

Enid is thinking out of the box! They have some great things going on. I want to get back to see what they accomplish in the next couple of years.

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