‘Back to the city’

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It isn’t taking long for Aries Industries Inc. to grow into its new headquarters. When Aries, which manufactures robot-mounted cameras and support equipment for sewer and pipeline inspection, relocated from Sussex to downtown Waukesha last year, the company added about 15 new employees and continued its trend of double-digit annual growth.
In December 2003, Aries bought its new 80,000-square-foot headquarters at 550 Elizabeth St., Waukesha, a few blocks west of Carroll College. The purchase and redevelopment of the facility, built near the turn of the century, cost about $3 million.
Aries had been housed in leased space in Sussex since the company was founded in 1985. The company had expanded its space in Sussex to about 40,000 square feet, but ran out of room to grow, said James Lenahan, president and chief executive officer of Aries.
The company had virtually no choice but to move from its former operations center last July, Lenahan said, because the firm did not own the building and lacked the ability to add more space there.
"We were at the point where if we wanted to grow, we needed to move," Lenahan said. "It took us a year and a half to find what we were looking for."
Aries has continued to grow since the move. The firm had 85 to 90 employees when the company purchased the new building and has about 105 employees today. Lenahan said the company will likely add three to five new employees in 2005.
He estimated Aries’ revenues for 2004 were in the "mid-$20 millions," approximately 18 percent over 2003. Lenahan said the company has projected double-digit growth for 2005.
"We’re optimistic about the year," he said. "We’re well-positioned in the industry to see continued growth into the future."
Lenahan said he learned about the building his company purchased through his involvement with the Waukesha County Economic Development Corp.’s visioning committee, which was asked to look at the county’s needs for manufacturing and commerce for the future.
"Over the next 10 to 15 years, it will be difficult to get employees to outlying factories," Lenahan said. "We said, ‘Let’s bring jobs back to the city, where people live and work.’ It’s been good for the city, the county and our employees. They’re close to banks, shops and restaurants. And it’s been good for us because there’s a larger employment pool."
Aries’ relocation was particularly good news for the City of Waukesha because of its choice of location, said Steve Crandell, director of community development for the city.
"It was more important as an infill for the city, bringing a successful business into the heart of the city," Crandell said. "It’s been a wonderful addition to the community."
Aries is currently using the first three floors of the building. Lenahan said future growth can be accommodated in floors located above the current operations, which are being used for storage now.
The basement houses the "clean" environment needed for electronic assembly, as well as Aries’ maintenance area, where robots and cameras are repaired. The first floor is split between assembly spaces for its remote-controlled robots and a large, 500-foot-long assembly line, where trucks, trailers and vans are outfitted with equipment needed for pipe and sewer inspection.
Lenahan said Aries’ customers, which include municipalities and contracts, don’t just purchase robots and cameras from the company, but an entire inspection system, including trucks, computers, controllers and all related equipment needed to inspect sewers and pipelines. Although the manufacturing facility and administration center is located in a residential neighborhood near downtown Waukesha, Lenahan said noise shouldn’t be a problem with neighbors.
"In the summertime, all the doors stay closed, because the whole line is air conditioned," he said.
The second and third floors house Aries’ sales and administration offices.
The building was constructed in 1909, Lenahan said. One of its first uses was for the manufacturing of Jiffy-Jell, a flavored gelatin that was the forerunner of Jell-O.
In recent years, the building housed a plastics injection molding company and several small manufacturers.
Redeveloping a property with a lengthy manufacturing history in Waukesha did present some challenges, such as transforming an old railroad depot into the manufacturing line for trucks, vans and trailers, and turning an old, dusty basement into spaces that house a training center and the clean environment for electronics assembly and the maintenance department.
However, the renovation project also revealed some hidden treasures, such as near-pristine hardwood floors on the third floor and a large safe left from the Jiffy-Jell days.
Lenahan said the fact that Aries’ building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places made it even more attractive to him.
"I wanted to preserve the beauty of it," Lenahan said. "And I love to save old buildings."
Aries was awarded with a 2004 Historic Preservation Award by the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Trust, recognizing the company’s restoration project.
Aries also was recognized during the 2004 Governor’s New Product Awards, presented by the Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers, for its ThermalView camera. The camera takes infrared images of pipes to better identify potential cracks and leaks.
Lenahan said the award was a confirmation that Aries has been doing the right thing in spending about 3 percent of its sales profits on research and development.
"That’s an important number," Lenahan said. "We’re constantly striving for new products, looking to the future. We have listening groups within our customers and our industry. We’re constantly developing new products – we respond to the market’s needs. And that keeps us in the forefront of good profitability."
Aries Industries Inc.
Location: 550 Elizabeth St., Waukesha
2004 revenues:
More than $20 million
Product: Television inspection equipment for pipelines, including remote-controlled robots and support vehicles
web site: www.ariesindustries.com
February 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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