#12: ESP International

88.7% growth

City: Cedar Rapids

Founded: 1969


1st time on the list


When employees have a direct financial stake in their company, they tend to perform better. That’s why Jeff Hamilton, president and CEO of ESP International, made the company 100 percent employee-owned earlier this year.

“When you get more people more engaged, they have more of a sense of responsibility,” Mr. Hamilton said.

The company has had a partial employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in place since 1998.

With its world headquarters in Cedar Rapids, a regional office in Minnesota and overseas locations in China, Taiwan and India, ESP specializes in seals, rubber products, plastics, cast and forged metal products for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as John Deere.

Its in-house engineering team offers design capabilities for seal applications and metal castings. Its solutions portfolio also includes quality management services, vendor consolidation and value-added assembly and inventory management programs.

The company’s motto, “Making small parts a big part of your bottom line since 1969,” is more than just a catchy phrase.

Many of the engineers at the larger OEMs don’t have expertise in seal parts, therefore depending on ESP’s knowledge and recommendations to keep costs down, Mr. Hamilton said.

“The cost to manage those parts is high compared to their value,” he said. “They are the cheapest part of the product, but the most critical.”

ESP designs, engineers and tests parts based on customers’ needs.

“What we do and how we handle things makes it cost-effective for them,” Mr. Hamilton said.

As well as the employees’ sense of ownership of the company, ESP’s growth is also attributed to the quality of its products at all locations, especially overseas.

“They are in the factory on a daily basis, making sure everything meets quality requirements,” Mr. Hamilton said of the employees overseas.

ESP continues to look for new opportunities and acquisitions, especially in the shaky economy.

“We are aggressively looking to grow domestically and internationally,” Mr. Hamilton said, adding the company is exploring markets in Vietnam, Thailand and Mexico.

-Angela Holmes