Family members who have built Harsh International Inc. into a global manufacturing business, from left Bob Brown, sister Micki Tracy, and father Andy Brown, stand with a truck equipped with Harsh’s specialized mixing apparatus, a mainstay of the company’s product line.

‘Mid-tech’ Harsh uplifts northern Weld economy 2006 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Outlying Communities

EATON – Weld County residents with very long memories would tell us that Bud Harsh was a tough act to follow.

But his successors in business, the family that bought Eaton-based Harsh International Inc. from Harsh’s widow in 1986, have measured up in spades.

Since then, Andrew Brown, sons Bob and Jim and daughter Micki have built the precision manufacturing business into a $27 million business with a reach that spans from Europe to Asia.

Their success, measured by more than just revenue numbers, earns Andrew Brown, now chairman of Harsh, and Bob Brown, the company’s president, the 2006 Bravo! Entrepreneur Award for Northern Colorado’s outlying communities.

Success is gauged also by the contributions Harsh has made to its North Weld County community, especially in the form of high-paying manufacturing jobs in a region where agriculture is the economic mainstay. Harsh’s workforce has more than doubled, from 40 to 89, under the Browns’ management.

Success also shows up in the way $10.5 million in capital investment during the past 20 years have diversified Harsh’s product lines, expanded its markets and made it a virtually recession-proof business.

When the Browns took over, the manufacturing plant on Oak Avenue in central Eaton was limited mainly to producing the hydraulic hoists that Bud Harsh invented in the late 1940s.

Today robotic welders, precision lasers and high-tech water-jet cutting tools turn raw steel into a line of products that extends the Harsh hoist line into other diverse directions.

Specialized, truck-mounted mixers and spreaders for feed, fertilizers and other agricultural products make up about half of Harsh’s business.

To describe the manufacturing process, Bob Brown has had to coin a new term.

“We’re mid-tech,” Brown said. “Some of the equipment we have on line is the very latest available. But our products remain pretty basic.”

Customers, some of whom have depended on Harsh’s precision equipment for longer than the Browns have operated the company, endorse its products without hesitation.

“We’ve been doing business with Harsh since well before my time,´ said Carl Maxey, general manager of Fort Collins-based Maxey Cos., a dealer in specialized truck beds and trailers. “Structurally, they’re the best. They’ve also kept their prices competitive.”

That’s not easy during a time when the price of Harsh’s main raw material – steel – has gone through three years of double-digit price increases. Despite the soaring steel costs, Harsh has not raised its product prices since September 2004.

“We don’t hear so much from our customers about that as we do from our competitors,” Bob Brown said. “They want to know how we do it.”

Despite a four-fold increase in annual revenue and the doubling of the company’s workforce, Harsh is better-known in the world outside its Weld County home than in this region. A Canadian customer, with 16 years of experience with Harsh, sums up the reasons.

“They’re a huge, very well-hidden secret,´ said Jim Courtney, co-owner of Courtney-Berg Industries Ltd. of Linden, Alberta, Canada. “They’re way under the radar. They’re not self-promoters. They’re doers.”