A safe bet
June 1, 2009
If you’ve ever been to Atlantic City, N.J., chances are you’ve walked through or driven past something the Thomas Co. Inc. was involved with.
Whether you went to the historic seaside resort town to attend a convention, walk the famous boardwalk or spend a few hours inside one of its 11 casinos, you probably saw a structure that’s part of this contractor’s long list of projects.
Amassing such a list of notable clients is easier when you’ve had almost 90 years to do it. Today, the Thomas Co. is one of the region’s largest HVAC, sheet metal and roofing contractors with up to $40 million in annual sales and a new 50,000-square-foot facility in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., packed with the latest fabrication machinery.
In May 2008, the longtime Atlantic City-based company moved about 20 miles inland to Egg Harbor and saw an opportunity to make some changes, said Vice President George J. Thomas, who shares a name with his grandfather who started the company in 1920.
George Thomas and his brother Michael decided to make a major investment in machinery to equip the new shop and compete in the 21st century, Thomas said.
“Over the years, what my father taught us and his father taught us - we reinvest in our company,” George Thomas said. “We retooled our entire operation.”
That included spending millions to purchase a variety of new machines and place them where they could be most effective.
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is we self-perform everything,” George Thomas said. “We like to control our own destiny and fabricate what we install to ensure timely performance. Our employees take pride in everything we do.”
New equipmentTo ensure that all metal fabrication went as efficiently as possible, Thomas Co. purchased 15 new machines from companies such as Ras Systems, Lockformer, Roto-Die, Gripnail and Flagler.
Rick Wester, vice president of Ras Systems, said company officials were excited Thomas decided to use its TURBObend Plus as its folding machine.
“They have been a joy to partner with and they have always been an aggressive and progressive company,” Wester said, adding Thomas Co. has been a client since 1999. “We are very pleased that they have selected us to be their partner again in this new state-of-the-art shop.”
Much of the new equipment was from Engel Industries Inc., which set up the heart of the shop - its new coil line.
Scott Husbands, Eastern region sales manager for Missouri-based Engel, said he first spoke to George Thomas at the 2008 AHR Expo in New York City. A few weeks later, Husbands traveled to New Jersey to visit Thomas Co. and discuss the growing company’s needs. It had recently purchased the new building but was still operating mostly out of the Atlantic City location.
“After seeing the old building, I could see why they needed a new building and new machinery if they were going to expand,” Husbands said. “They had several Engel roll-form machines, a very old plasma cutting table, a break, a foot shear, a few other machines and no space to grow.”
A few hours later, the company had decided to buy a full Engel coil line with downloading software, an Engel Viking plasma table, a Pittsburgh seam closer, a dual-head Cornermatic, a 16-station roll former and related pieces.
“I went out there to sell him a coil line and it turned out to be a lot more than that,” Husbands said.
George Thomas said he believes the new pieces will help him succeed in the “extremely competitive” local market.
Company has been involved in many historic projectsCompany has been involved in many historic projects
Over 90 years, you might expect the Thomas Co. Inc. to have worked on a few well-known buildings and projects.
And you’d be right. Here are a few the company has been involved in.
Lucy the Margate Elephant. In 1978, Thomas Co. performed the restoration and reconstruction of this Margate City, N.J., landmark. It took 20,000 square feet of terne metal. The project and Thomas Co. was featured in a December 1978 Snips article.
South Woods state prison. Thomas Co. made the ductwork for the air-distribution system at this $250 million prison, which opened in 1997. It houses over 3,000 inmates.
Borgota Hotel and Casino. Thomas Co. made the ductwork distribution system, archeitcural metal wall panels, metal and built-up roofing, as well as custom architectural work and kitchen equipment for this $1.1 billion luxury casino, believed to have led to Atlantic City’s current revival.
Atlantic City High School. Thomas Co. made the ductwork for the $85 million public high school.
Sovereign Bank Arena. The entire ductwork distribution system, metal wall panels and architectural work for the $53 million Trenton, N.J., arena was done by Thomas Co. The arena can seat up to 9,000 for basketball, 8,100 for hockey and 10,000 for concerts.
Boardwalk Hall. This historic, registered landmark constructed in 1926 was home to the Miss America beauty pageant for decades. In 2001, a multiyear, $90 million restoration was completed. Thomas Co. made the duct for the hall’s modern HVAC system.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Last year, Thomas Co. completed the first phase of the 133-year-old museum’s renovation. It included making 14-gauge, type No. 304 stainless steel gutters and valleys.
Thomas Co. stays in family, keeps growingThe Thomas Co. Inc. can boast of revenue up to $40 million these days, but its beginnings were much more humble.
The company can trace its roots to 1920, when George J. Thomas opened the business that originally operated out of his Arctic Avenue home in Atlantic City, N.J. He installed several types of roofing as well as custom sheet metal work on Atlantic City homes and businesses. Customers of many local stores such as Silver’s, Ames and Woolworth’s walked underneath metal ceilings made by Thomas Co.
By the 1930s, at the height of Atlantic City’s popularity as a seaside resort, landmark hotels such as the Traymore, Chelsea and Shelbourne turned to Thomas for architectural and roofing work.
In 1935, the company moved to a separate building on North Brighton Avenue, where it would remain for the next 74 years.
For a few years following George Thomas’ death, his wife Florence ran the business. In 1948, another Thomas - George L. Thomas, the founder’s son - took over the company.
As Atlantic City faded as a regional resort destination with the rise of highways and airplane travel, Thomas was able to keep the company growing.
When the town was reborn as the first major gambling destination outside Nevada, the Thomas Co., was there, helping with the construction of the first casino-hotel, Resorts. Today, all the city’s gambling palaces have been Thomas Co. clients.
Many companies fail to survive beyond one generation. Thomas Co. is well beyond that. In 1975, George J. Thomas - George L. Thomas’ son - graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University in 1975 with a bachelor’s in business. He began working for the family’s sheet metal business full-time while earning his master’s, which he was given in 1977. Today, he is a vice president and co-owner of the company.
His brother and co-owner, Michael, graduated from Lehigh in 1976, also with a business degree.
Besides their positions in the company, George Thomas is a member of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association trustee boards in central and south New Jersey. Michael Thomas is on the trustee boards and board of directors for the National Roofing Contractors Association.
In May 2007, George’s son, Jordan, and Michael’s son, Michael Jr., started working at Thomas Co. - the fourth generation to do so. They are also graduates of Lehigh University.