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Gougeon Brothers, Inc., has asked the City of Bay City for a 12-year tax break on an expansion project.

GOUGEON EXPANSION: $620,000 Project Reflects Bay City's Innovative Heritage

Firm is Prime Example of Many Smaller, Innovative Enterprises Here

October 15, 2017       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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The City Commission of Bay City will act this week on a proposed 12-year tax break on a $620,000 expansion for Gougeon Brothers, Inc., 100 Patterson Ave.

Sounds simple enough, but this is a big deal and great news for Bay City. It is confirmation that a highly-innovative, home-grown company that interfaces with high tech wood and composite materials assembly is maturing with positive future prospects.

Gougeon and other such companies are a reflection of both Bay City's past and its future. We would also place in this class Mersen, Inc., North America's largest producer of specialty graphite; home cleaning and plastic wrap and bag producer S.C. Johnson, Inc.; grower-owned Michigan Sugar Co., the nation's third-largest sugar producer; Aerospace America, air filtration equipment; Bay Cast, Inc., high tech finished steel castings;

Globe Fire Sprinkler Co., Standish, world leader in sprinkler head manufacturing; Bay Fire Protection, of Pinconning; Schmidt Industries, Bangor Township firm that makes turbine replacement parts; Emcor, Inc., world leader in ball screw manufacturing, located in the Valley Center Technology Park; RWC manufacturing machine builder; and Quantum Composites, manufacturer of engineered structural composite molding compounds serving aerospace, industrial, medical, military, and transportation markets, among others.

Smaller, nimble firms like these that often started as local entrepreneurial enterprises are carrying the economic and employment load once dominated by heavy industries like General Motors, (still employing nearly 400 here), and former stalwart firms like Defoe Shipbuilding, Industrial Brownhoist, Prestolite, and apparel manufacturers Wolverine, World's Star and Evenknit knitting mills.

This transition from lunch pail/factory whistle industries to more laid-back, employee friendly firms is, as they say, the way of the world of today. It is our answer to Silicon Valley types such as Apple, Amazon and Facebook.

To be sure, we do have our Silicon Valley types, including DICE Corporation, providing software for the alarm industry and disaster recovery; and the former Dow Corning, now Dow/Dupont, in Auburn and at Uptown Bay City.

Two new buildings are involved in the Gougeon project that sits on a historic site once the location of the Last Chance Tavern as well as the Ben Huskins Boatyard. Author J.R. Watson notes the "last chance" indicated the saloon gave thirsty lumberjacks' a final opportunity for a drink before moving on to the Wenona Beach Amusement Park.

The company's unvarnished business statement: "Gougeon Brothers, Inc. the company that manufactures WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy, is an employee-owned, family-run company located in Bay City, Michigan" is only the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes.

Brothers Meade and Jan Gougeon in 1969 began building iceboats and light, fast sailboats with wood and their proprietary epoxy formula. By 1971, they were selling WEST SYSTEM Epoxy to other boat builders and individuals to construct or repair their own boats with it. Since epoxy was new in the boating world, the Gougeons found themselves dispensing a lot of how-to advice right along with their cans of epoxy resin and hardeners.

The firm's website states: "With a bit of refining, that's pretty much what we're still doing nearly five decades later. Although WEST SYSTEM products are now distributed worldwide and sold through full-service retailers, we continue to stay in close contact with our customers. Much of the extensive epoxy research and development in the Gougeon test lab is driven by the needs of our WEST SYSTEM customers. Our full-time technical staff fields thousands of inquiries annually.

"Jan and Meade established their new business on the former site of the Ben Huskins Boatworks on the Saginaw River, and GBI remains on that site today. With the help of friends who worked at Dow Chemical, the brother formulated their own epoxy system which was ideally suited for their application.

"Modifying the epoxy so it was suitable as a coating was a major breakthrough. It had long been known that the epoxy resins had very good moisture resistance but they were so difficult to apply that they weren't used as a moisture barrier coating. With their new formulation, the Gougeon Brothers found the epoxy could easily be applied as a moisture barrier over wood or fiberglass surfaces. This is how their world-famous 105 Epoxy System came into existence. The company has been formulating and refining marine-grade epoxies ever since.

"Many people who saw the Gougeon Brothers' iceboats were interested in using their proprietary epoxy system for their own projects. Brother Joel Gougeon joined the company in 1971 and was very involved with developing the epoxy business during his years with the company. In 1975, the original iceboat business was sold to Joe Norton of Norton Boatworks in Green Lake, Wisconsin, so that the company could concentrate on the epoxy business and building larger custom boats.

Read more about the origins of Gougeon Brothers, Inc. at Epoxyworks.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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