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Torch passes at Welsco.

Fourth Generation Plots Diverse Course

A FOURTH GENERATION OF family members in North Little Rock has assumed control of Welsco Inc., an industrial gas and welding supply company.

In December, Stephen Harrison, chairman and chief executive officer of Welsco, and his wife, Donie, transferred majority ownership of Welsco to their children: Brian Harrison, 29, who recently became president of Welsco, and Angela Harrison, 26, corporate secretary.

Welsco has matured into one of Arkansas' leading suppliers of welding supplies and industrial gases. Brian Harrison estimates 1993 sales at around $12 million, and he hopes that figure can grow 10 percent in 1994. Welding supplies and other "hard goods" comprise about 60 percent of sales, with gases accounting for about 40 percent, he says.

"My goal has been to keep it a family-owned business," Stephen Harrison says. "That's one of the reasons my wife and I decided to go ahead and pass it on while I could still work with the kids and help them for seven years to ensure that it remained a family-owned company."

Harrison says he plans to retire in seven years, leaving his children free to call all of the shots. In addition to Harrison's two children, a nephew, Mark Harrison, is also involved in the business. He manages Welsco's retail store in Conway, one of nine in Arkansas.

Welsco's customers include all types of manufacturers, as well as construction companies and, increasingly, hospitals, which use liquid oxygen and nitrogen for a variety of medical purposes.

Brian Harrison says the medical use of special gases is a growth area for Welsco.

"Our business is getting more multifaceted than it was in the past," he says. "We're not just welding supplies anymore."

Harrison family members own 95 percent of Welsco, and company directors, many of whom have been with Welsco 25-30 years, own the other 5 percent.

Welsco was founded in 1941 by Richard G. Harrison, Stephen Harrison's father. Then known as Welders Supply Co., the business was located in east Little Rock. Initially, it sold welding supplies, oxygen and acetylene, both of which are used in welding and other manufacturing processes.

Today, Welsco is headquartered at a 35,000-SF facility on Crystal Hill Road in North Little Rock, where an acetylene plant and the company's distribution center are also located. There's also an air separation plant in Smackover, which Welsco bought in 1981. The company produces liquid oxygen, nitrogen and argon at the Smackover plant.

From those central facilities, Welsco supplies its nine in-state retail stores and one in Tulsa, Okla. Much of Welsco's growth has come through acquisitions of strategically located welding supply stores.

This year, Harrison says he wants to see the company forecast industry trends better so that "we can take that information, act on it sooner and be able to offer things in advance of our competition."

He says improved customer service and more in-state saturation will be keys to ongoing growth.

"We're getting everything in-house ready so we can go outside and push the areas we're servicing right now, and in '94 work on a closer relationship with our vendors and bring them in a position where they can help us push those frontiers out," he says.

"But we want to stay an Arkansas company. We don't want to push past the point where we lose availability to our branch stores."
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Title Annotation:Industry Report; Welsco Inc.
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 3, 1994
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