As appeared in Messenger-Inquirer
50 & Still Flexible
By Joy Campbell
In June of 1960, Bob Hudson was looking for a summer job to help him finish his last year at Western Kentucky University. His new wife, Patsy Miller Hudson, had a job. The couple had met at the Bowling Green business college that is now part of Western.
Hudson landed a job at a small company then-called Kentucky Electronics. The 23-year-old never left. And in 2001, he became sole owner of the Owensboro company now known as Ken- Tron Manufacturing Inc.
In June, the plant’s 67 employees celebrated the 50th anniversary of a company that has stayed the course through recessions and morphed several times as technology and product markets have changed.
Today it supplies metal stampings and wire forms to a diverse set of customers in a long list of industries that includes medical, aerospace, music and electronics.
Owner recalls ups and downs Fifty years ago, the start-up wire company employed 13 people with General Electric as a primary customer. A year after opening, a metal stamping operation was added.
Kentucky Electronics struggled in its infancy.
In 1962, the company received a cash infusion for expansion when Texas Gas Transmission Corp. bought controlling interest.
And in 1966 “everybody geared up as color television sales exploded,” Hudson said. Kentucky Electronics was making grid wires for GE’s receiving tubes. During this time, the company reached peak employment at 600 and had six plants operating in Owensboro.
“We thought it would last forever, but it leveled off,” he said.
Transistors replaced receiving tubes. In 1967, facing overcapacity and foreign competition, the company laid off about 200 people overnight, Hudson said.
During the high-growth period, KE started construction on a 144,000-squarefoot building.