DANVILLE — The workforce at Watchfire Signs has increased by 257 percent in the last five years, and the maker of LED sign and digital billboards finally has a facility large enough to house all its employees and operations with room to grow.
Last summer, Watchfire started its physical expansion, adding 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 17,000 square feet of office space, and at 2 p.m. Thursday, the company will host a ribbon cutting to mark the grand opening of its newly-expanded headquarters at 1015 Maple St., Danville.
In five years the company has grown from 84 employees to 300, running out of room a few years ago at the location on Maple Street and forcing the company to spread staff to satellite locations, including multiple sites in Danville and a small office in Champaign.
Vice President Darrin Friskney said the manufacturing side of the company began operating in the new addition in the spring and office staff moved from satellite locations to the new space in June. Now, everyone is under one roof, he said, and it brings all the employees together for better collaboration
Friskney said the expansion and increase in workforce is precipitated by increases in the company's sales both of LED signs that are located on a customer's premises and of digital billboards. He said more businesses and organizations are buying LED signs, and Watchfire is getting a bigger piece of the digital billboard market.
Friskney said one reason is that Watchfire designs, engineers, manufactures and services its signs and billboards, including the computer software that controls their content.
"There are very few companies like ours, a vertically integrated manufacturer that has tight control over its components," said Friskney, who added that most of the company's market is in the United States, but it also has product in more than a dozen countries. "And it all comes right out of Danville."
Friskney said the company could have done its expansion anywhere in the world, as other manufacturers that have left the U.S., but Watchfire expanded in Danville, where it's been for 80 years, because of its talented workforce, which, along with its products, gives a competitive edge.
"That's why we expanded (in Danville) and made a long-term commitment to this facility," he said.
Watchfire did not ask for or receive any city financial incentives or assistance from the city in its expansion, which more than doubled the size of the original facility. And Friskney said the company has planned for the future, ensuring it has space on its property for another expansion.
He said it was built with expansion in mind, so Watchfire has the ability to double in size in the future, if timing is right. He said they've added 50 employees since the expansion started last year, and the hiring continues.
The company also remodeled the outside of the old building.
"It really reflects a high-tech company," Friskney said, adding that it makes a stronger impression of what the company is.
Watchfire's President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Harriott said in a news release that the expansion came at the perfect time.
"The last decade has been a period of tremendous growth for Watchfire and 2013 is shaping up to be our best year to date. What's most exciting about this is that we are a U.S.-based high-tech manufacturer competing and winning against global competitors," he said.