June 26, 2020
Written By: Tanya Manus, Rapid City Journal
VRC Metal Systems more than tripled the size of its facility and added 20 jobs since relocating to Box Elder a year ago.
VRC is an Ascent Innovation success story, spending five years in the business incubator center — plus renting additional space in Rapid City — before moving to the former Vandenberg Elementary School near Ellsworth Air Force Base.
VRC previously occupied 16,000 square feet of space at its two sites. Buying and putting $6 million in renovations into the former school allowed VRC to expand to 55,000 square feet. Purchasing an existing building instead of constructing a new one was a money-saving option that meant VRC could grow without using as much capital, CEO Rob Hrabe said.
“The building is suitable for everything we’re doing right now and we have room to expand,” Hrabe said. “We build equipment, we design equipment and we do process development for customers. … Having the additional space is a big deal. The property is about 10 acres total so we have room to expand beyond our current building, so we have plans for additional facilities in the future.”
As VRC’s facility expanded, so did its work force. In the past year, VRC has grown from about 45 to 65 employees and has plans to add more.
“We’re still hiring. We have about four positions open right now,” Hrabe said. “We are continuing to expand. We expect about a year from now we will be at over 100 employees.”
VRC provides equipment and services for cold spray technology – essentially cold welding – and other coatings that, among other uses, are effective for airplane parts. Its new location near Ellsworth Air Force Base will be a boon for the company. In May, Sen. Mike Rounds announced Ellsworth Air Force Base will be the preferred site for the new B-21 bomber. At least 100 of the B-21 planes, designed by Northrop Grumman, are being built.
VRC’s proximity “will be an opportunity to get cold spray technology incorporated into the regular maintenance process for B-21s. It’s going to be about five years before actual aircraft arrives, but there will be a lot of facility construction, a need for facility space and space for contractors. A lot of them will be potential customers for us,” Hrabe said.
Hrabe said partnerships with Ascent Innovation and others have been vital to VRC’s growth.
“It was a huge benefit to us — the partnerships we have with local economic development folks, the Small Business Administration, the state economic development folks and the congressional delegation,” Hrabe said. “John Thune has been to our place. Mike Rounds has been helping us with a lot of Department of Defense contract work, as well as Dusty Johnson. It’s been a team effort. I don’t think we would be able to grow at the rate we’re doing without all those folks helping us out.”
The COVID-19 have had some impact on VRC services, Hrabe said.
“One of the things we do is deliver and install equipment at other people’s facilities across the country and we were not able to install any of those systems during the shutdown,” he said. “It didn’t stop us from continuing to expand. It just delayed a lot of our deliveries.”
For more information, go to vrcmetalsystems.com.