RIPLEY, Miss.—After spending more than 15 years in the rubber industry, Steve Glidewell came to a point in his life and career in the early 2000s where he got the entrepreneurial urge.
He had worked for Dana Inc. from 1986 to 2002 and he wanted to start his own company. "I like to tell people I reached that magic age of 39 where I was still stupid enough to start a company," Glidewell said. "I feel if I had waited too much longer I probably wouldn't have had the guts to do that."
So he formed Elite Elastomers Inc. and things have grown from there. Fast forward to 2019, and Elite Elastomers boasts four buildings at its headquarters site in Ripley. That includes the main mixing facility, along with a warehouse for raw materials, as Elite's main business is as a custom mixer focusing on higher-end compounds. Adjacent to that is a standalone research and development center, and two separate plants (only one that currently is being used) for the Engineered Products business established in 2016.
In addition, last fall's purchase of Wayne County Rubber brought Elite Elastomers a second mixing location in Wooster, Ohio. The operation was renamed Elite Elastomers of Ohio.
All told, Elite employs 50 in Ripley and another 20 in Ohio.
It took Glidewell a bit of time deciding where to locate Elite after the company was incorporated. He had worked about a decade in Paragould, Ark., at what was then Dana's Industrial Products Division. He liked the area and there were people wanting to help him get started, but there wasn't much economic support to be had.
He then looked at Tennessee before deciding on coming back to his original home in Ripley.
"It just happened to hit at a good time, the hometown boy coming back," said Glidewell, who serves as Elite Elastomers president. "The big thing there is furniture and they were looking to diversify their manufacturing base. It ended up being a financial decision for us because they helped us quite a bit."
Elite broke ground in December 2001 on a greenfield operation. "We didn't buy a building," he said. "We poured the concrete, put up the buildings and ordered the equipment."
It was late 2002 before the mixing operation was production-capable. As the team tried to build up a business, Elite first got caught up in the economic downturn that followed the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
But the slowdown actually worked to the firm's advantage a bit, according to Glidewell. "I was always on the opposite side of that in technical," he said. "When things were running really fast and furious in the plant, you were rarely given any production time to run trials."
With the business of potential customers slow, Elite was given some opportunities as the new kid on the block. "Some we knew from past relationships," he said, "and we were fortunate enough to start building our business."