Ultra Electronics ICE is a Kansas firm that started in a campus dorm room 43 years ago and has since grown into a company leader in the aerospace industry—with plans for even more growth.
In 1974, a group of Kansas State University students began to experiment with circuit boards and how they could be applied to the commercial sphere. Soon, they had developed practical applications for these new electronic products in fields of veterinary medicine and agriculture, such as flake counters for hay. The group—then formed as Integrated Circuit Electronics, or ICE—also developed fuel injection units for the construction industry. However, the company’s real niche seemed to be the aviation industry, with a breakthrough query from Cessna in 1975.
“They were looking for better technological solutions for propeller deicing control,” explains the company’s president, Randy O’Boyle. Within a few years, the company had established itself as a leader in ice protection controllers and offered several models. From there, the company expanded into the creation and maintenance of numerous pieces of electronic equipment for the aerospace industry.
In 2004, in time for its 30th anniversary, the company bought its current business location on the west side of Manhattan through community incentives. At that time, the business had 20 employees and sales of $2 million a year.
Four years later, when O’Boyle came to the company, there were 25 employees. Then, the biggest growth came after London-based Ultra Electronics purchased the company three years ago.
“They needed a U.S. base for their commercial and military aerospace divisions,” O’Boyle says. “They’re a billion dollar company, but their aerospace division is smaller. They have other U.S. subsidiaries. Their purchase has helped our growth by bringing business from overseas to Manhattan. They see the business climate in the U.S. as very positive.”
O’Boyle says the Kansas-England connection has been an ideal partnership and one that enables the company to grow substantially as it concentrates on aerospace engineering.
Now the staff numbers are up to 60 employees and sales have quadrupled.
“We’ve grown exponentially in the last three years and will probably see even more increase in the future,” adds O’Boyle.
Kansas Roots, Kansas Future
Although Ultra Electronics ICE has undergone several moves in the Manhattan area and two expansions in its current location since its inception, the company continues growing—and continues choosing Kansas for its home.
“We’ve just received the tentative go-ahead for the expansion,” says company president Randy O’Boyle. “We plan to double the size of our plant within the next 18–24 months.”
O’Boyle says that while there are other places that would like the business to relocate to their communities, “there’s a very positive business climate and stable economy in Manhattan. We are working with state and local leaders to stay here. Many of our engineers are KSU graduates, and some of our workforce comes from the technical colleges. We do offer internal training and good benefits. A good percentage of our people have worked here for nearly 20 years.”
O’Boyle says the company will continue making and servicing “anything with an electronic drive” for the aerospace industry as well as some products for agriculture, veterinary medicine and the construction industry.