Kopper is Kenosha County Entrepreneur of the Year

Michael Kopper

Title: Founder and CEO

Company: Centrisys Corp.

Industry: Centrifuge manufacturing

Address: 9586 58th Place, Kenosha

Michael Kopper is a native of Germany who was working in the U.S. when he realized the advantages of starting a centrifuge company in America instead of back home in Europe.

“I liked the lifestyle in the U.S., I liked the opportunity, and I took advantage of both of them,” Kopper said.

In 1987, he founded Centrisys Corp. in Libertyville, Ill. The company moved to Kenosha in 1999 and has grown to 85 employees and $45 million in annual revenues.

“We had a vision that we can manufacture in the U.S. better than we can manufacture in Europe,” he said. “The success is that we have people that are willing to work, specifically in the Midwest here, and there is still a good talent pool available. Today we have better quality than any equipment coming from Europe.”

Kopper recently received the Kenosha County Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Kenosha County Business Excellence Awards presented by the Kenosha Area Business Alliance and the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce.

Centrisys has completed four expansions in Kenosha, most recently purchasing a 23,000-square-foot building across the street to increase its Kenosha footprint to 150,000 square feet.

“Originally, we wanted to expand the existing facility, but when the facility across the street came up for sale, we decided that rather than expanding our facility now, we (would) buy the building across the street that allows you to expand more,” Kopper said.

The company also has 20,000-square-foot repair and service facilities in California and Texas.

Centrisys makes centrifuges (which separate substances of different densities) and centrifuge systems for the wastewater, water, petrochemical and food industries.

The products, which turn at three times the earth’s gravitational acceleration and have very tight tolerances, are made of special materials to withstand the pressures of use. The company makes about 140 per year.

“Centrisys is the only manufacturer of decanter centrifuges for the environmental market in the United States,” Kopper said.

The company also repairs centrifuge equipment made by Centrisys and its competitors.

“It’s a good balance for capital and service,” he said. “If one goes down, the other goes up.”

In 2012, Centrisys’ sales were up 10 percent, driven by capital projects from customers. An increase in fracking and drilling for oil contributed to the increase, Kopper said.

Kopper is no stranger to awards—his team recently received a 2013 Innovative Technology Award from the Water Environmental Federation for its THK Thickening System. The product thickens waste activated sludge in wastewater treatment plants without the use of chemicals, he said.

“That is something new and we feel that…for us, that is what the iPhone is for Apple,” Kopper said.

Kopper makes a point of sourcing 65 percent of Centrisys’ materials within a 75-mile radius of the company. Machining and fabrication are outsourced to local specialized companies, while Centrisys assembles the devices to its high quality standards. This model supports not just the company’s 85 employees, but 250-plus area employees.

“We feel the success of (Centrisys) has a lot to do with our company culture and the support from the whole team in the company itself, and our vendors,” Kopper said. “The goal is basically to increase sales, increase profitability and maintain our family culture.”

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