BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Companies in the Greater Cincinnati 100 will face a future in 15 years that might be shaped by people who might not even be on the payroll today.
Finding those faces is one of the critical challenges of local companies headed toward the millennium.
"Our customers are having problems finding employees, and we can only grow as fast as our customers," said Fred Habegger, president of Habegger Corp., a wholesale distributor of Bryant and Carrier heating and air conditioning equipment in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The firm had 1997 revenues of $98.5 million.
"We are instituting programs at the dealer level where we take some of our people and their people and visit high schools to try and educate students that heating and air conditioning is a good vocation. We are in competition with other industries for good people."
Finding personnel and spurring growth were common themes for the future.
Keith McCluskey, president of McCluskey Chevrolet Automotive and the Auto Nation USA franchise at Fields Ertel Road and I-71, said his company plans to be the No. 1 big-truck Chevrolet dealer in the world for the foreseeable future. A direct sales line brought McCluskey the honor and allows the company to sell trucks from Cleveland to Spokane -- Key Largo to Fargo.
Others see niche futures involving entertainment. As amusement parks are built worldwide, revenues should climb in the years to come for Southern Ohio Fabricators Inc., which began supplying amusement park builders with steel about eight years ago, said Timothy J. Gates, president and chief executive officer.
Coasters with company steel have been built at Six Flags parks, Busch Gardens and Cedar Point, though construction such as high-rise offices and other commercial projects are primary markets.
Peter S. Strange, president of Frank Messer & Sons Construction Co., a firm with 1998 revenues of $309 million, said forming alliances with companies that consistently make major capital investments is one wave of the future in the construction industry.
"We will be providing much broader services and will be fully integrated into business planning instead of being an event in the lives of companies with capital plans," Mr. Strange said. Some companies, such as Robbins Inc., Linwood, have the globe squarely in their corporate sights. The firm is already the largest producer of recreational maple flooring in the United States -- with installations in gymnasiums as varied as the United Center in Chicago, where Michael Jordan hangs time, to Indiana University, Duke and UCLA.
Ten of 13 sites in the 1997 NCAA men's college basketball championship tournament had Robbins floors. The firm also has installed floors for 20 National Basketball Association teams.
The globe is the next frontier, said Jay Stoehr, president and chief operating officer at Robbins.
"As the popularity of basketball and the NBA expands around the world, Robbins is well positioned to provide the surfaces to the high standards already established for basketball flooring," he said.