Dayton Phoenix rebuilds after 2019 tornadoes without losing customers, employees

All but wrecked by the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes, manufacturer Dayton Phoenix Group (DPG) raised a $135 million production facility on Kuntz Road without losing a customer and without laying off workers, company leaders told trustees of the Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority Tuesday.

“We’ve really been fortunate to improve this building to the extent we have,” said Gale Kooken, the company’s chief executive and founder.

Kooken vowed in the hours after the tornadoes to keep all of his then-approximately 300 employees on the company payroll as the business temporarily moved manufacturing operations to a former Delphi plant on Northwoods Boulevard in Vandalia.

It took some 600 semi trucks and 43 days to move all of the parts and equipment needed to relocate to Vandalia, said Darryl Patak, DPG’s chief financial officer. The work returned to Dayton this past October.

Today, the manufacturer has more than 330 employees total, including about 245 in Dayton, Patak said. While some employees chose to move on after the tornadoes, no one was laid off, he said. Everyone who chose to stay remained on the payroll, Patak said.

A late shift of about 13 workers was at DPG’s 1619 Kuntz Road plant when tornadoes ripped through North Dayton after 11 p.m. May 27, 2019.

Those workers were able to retreat to a fortified safe area and ride the storm out. At one point, they emerged to a maze of dangling steel and electrical wires only to return to the shelter as tornadoes descended again.

“There were 19 different tornadoes that came through this area,” Patak said.

Among the areas Patak showed Port Authority trustees: the central structure within the factory where those workers took shelter as winds above tore off a trio of 28,000-pound air handlers from ceiling mounts.

One of those air handlers was found on the plant’s front lawn. Another was never seen again, Patak said.

Founded some 27 years ago in a former General Motors plant, privately held DPG makes sub-assemblies and critical components for railroad locomotives and heavy mining vehicles.

Port Authority trustees voted unanimously in July last year to have its Southwest Ohio Regional Bond fund issue about $6.85 million in taxable Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bonds for the company’s reconstructed plant and offices on Kuntz Road.

“We thought it would be a great idea to spend some time with our borrowers, with evidence with how impactful we are here at the Port Authority,” said Joseph Geraghty, the authority’s executive director.

“Dayton Phoenix will rise again,” predicted Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted when he toured the plant in 2019 a few days after the tornadoes.

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