Fairfield-based centrifuge company celebrates 100 years

A Fairfield-based company that got its start 100 years ago has spent the vast majority of that time in Butler County.

Western States Machine Company is a worldwide supplier of a centrifuge, a device used by both the sugar and nonsugar industries to separate solids from liquids.

The company, which employs between 75 and 85 people at its 80,000-square-foot facility at 625 Commerce Center Drive, got its start in Salt Lake City, Utah. It sold its plant there in 1925, moving all production and equipment to Hamilton-based Columbia Tool, which would handle all manufacturing while Western States staff focused on design work and sales.

In 1936, Western States entered into a lease with an option to purchase all of Columbia Tool’s assets, exercising that option in 1937 and bringing all of Columbia’s personnel to Western States payroll. The company moved to Fairfield in 2013.

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“It was a very difficult management decision to make the move from Hamilton, which had been our home for over 90 years,” said Bob Sinnard, the company’s president and CEO. “We have nothing but great memories of our time there. Being in a brand new facility has created a great working environment for our employees, which in turn has helped boost the morale of our team members.”

The Fairfield Chamber of Commerce has been “extremely welcoming and accommodating” to the company and its employees, Sinnard said.

“We enjoy being a part of the Fairfield community and regularly try to find ways to give back, whether it is donating the money we collect with our Casual Fridays for a Cause or donations of items and time for other special causes,” he said.

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The Fairfield company is the only U.S. manufacturer of sugar centrifuges, he said.

“With over half of our sales being exported world-wide, it can be difficult to remain competitive due to the costs of labor and materials in the United States,” Sinnard said. “Over the last couple of years the currency exchange rate has put us at a major price disadvantage with our foreign competitors.”

With the sugar industry continuing to grow, the company recently acquired majority interest in a manufacturing company in Piracicaba, Brazil, which allows its to compete in the largest sugar market in the world, he said.

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The company also recently opened a sales office in Thailand, Sinnard said.

Western States centrifuges have been installed in sugar mills since the early 1900s and the company has machines that are more than 60 years old that are still spinning today worldwide,” he said.

“Without our company’s continued support and upkeep of those machines, they would quickly be out of commission,” Sinnard said.

Eugene Roberts, Western States’ founder, revolutionized the way sugar is produced by making the process more efficient and safer, he said.

“His focus on customer service and innovation are still the bedrock of the our philosophy today,” Sinnard said.

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The major contributing factor to the success of Western States has been the entrepreneurial spirit of Roberts, whose family remains on the board of directors, he said.

“Their belief in our product and our people have directly impacted our business, allowing us to thrive where we can and push where we need to,” Sinnard said. “When times get challenging, their continued support to do whatever it takes to turn it around have been life-saving.”

Sinnard said the company also is still in business because of the hard-working employees that have worked for it.

“The vast majority of these employees come from the Hamilton and Fairfield areas,” he said. “They are hard-working, family oriented workers who care about our company.

“I tell our customer all the time that I will put our American engineering and manufacturing up against our German and other European competitors any time.”

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