The Valdosta Daily Times
This is a story about metal and steel.
It’s also a story about family, about two brothers who inherited a business from their parents and steered it into the 21st century.
It starts in 1944, in the Charleston Naval Yard in Charleston, S.C. That’s where George Voigt found himself, aiding the war effort for World War II. After the United States entered the war, production at the Yard ramped up to meet demand, leading to an influx of metal workers. In the service, Voigt had worked on radiators and Jeeps, but at Charleston, Voigt worked with metal, building ships, repairing ships, welding, converting.
When the war ended, Voigt moved back to Valdosta where he had grown up, and where he decided to put his newly earned skills to use.
In 1946, Voigt’s Sheet Metal Works was started off of Hill Avenue with a $2,500 loan from First Federal Savings and Loan, something that Al Voigt, who runs the business today with his brother, Kenny, says kept his father up at nights.
“He grew up in the Depression,” said Al. “That 3 percent interest kept him up at night. He had to be scared of it, but he did take that leap.”
George started out with three employees, including his brother, Clarence, who went on to work for Metal Products. George’s wife, Faye, also worked as a combination bookkeeper, accountant and office manager for Voigt’s.
“She would come in and work during the day and leave at four to go home and cook supper.”
But even at home Faye was never far from work, going so far as to have a phone installed so that she could keep track of business when she wasn’t there.
George started out making tobacco flues for farmers and other general sheet metal work, making hoods for restaurants, putting gutters on homes. But as Valdosta grew, so did Voigt’s Sheet Metal. When the paper mill started going up in the early ‘50s, they turned to Voigt’s to do the pipe work for the building, and The Crackin’ Good Bakery also hired Voigt’s for their metal work.
“The paper mill really helped us out. At the time, it was the biggest company around and our biggest customer. That was also the time they started building Moody Air Force Base, which became another customer.”
When I-75 started going up in the late ‘50s, George decided to move the business to its current location, at 2011 Springhill Dr.
Voigt’s also diversified into other avenues. In the ‘50s, it got into the heating and air business, putting in duct work for churches, businesses and homes. It’s where David Waller learned the heating and air business before he left to open Waller Heating and Air which, like Voigt’s, is still doing business today.
While their father had worked to diversify Voigt’s, Al and Kenny took it even further, opening up a Steel Supply business in 1986, followed by a crane rental business in 1989.
“We were spending $50,000-$60,000 a year on crane rentals,” said Kenny. “We decided to purchase one just for personal use, but people started wanting to rent it from us.”
Not ones to ignore a need in the market, the Voigt brothers turned it into a full-fledged arm of their business, going from one crane to the 11 cranes they own and rent today.
“We think about our dad a lot, especially when we were getting into cranes.”
“He used to say ‘If you can’t pay for the gas for it, you don’t need it,’” laughed Al. “Sometimes we joke that he must be kicking his box at some of the decisions we make…They all stay out on jobs, but if they were all here…we’d have to park them in the street.”
In 2006, they opened a metal fabrication business in Moultrie that’s run by Al’s son, Britt.
“It makes you more versatile to do different jobs.”
Indeed, that’s what both Voigt’s partly credit their company’s success to.
“If business was down in one area, it’d be up in another and vice-versa. Things would have to be pretty bad for everything to be down.”
They also credit their success to their employees.
“We’ve always had good employees, some who’ve been with us forever.”
Like LaRay Yeumans, who joined the company in 1974, not long after Kenny started working in the company full-time.
As a company that has been around for 67 years, they’ve seen a lot of other companies come and go, some of which they helped build, like the Levi-Strauss factory that closed down when the work was moved overseas.
And for a company and a family that has seen so many things change in their business, some things haven’t.
Consider this: George got his start in the metal business working for the military, repairing and building ships.
Military work is something that Al and Kenny continue to do, working in recent years on constructing armor plates for military Humvees, to protect soldiers from explosives, much like George did in his work on ships.
And the brothers are building a new location in the industrial park, not too far from where their father started out himself.
“We just ran out of room,” said Kenny. “Now, we have 90 acres…to use for future expansion.”
And being a company that built itself up with small jobs before bigger jobs came calling, they still take in small jobs, despite how they’ve grown, performing jobs anywhere from $3,500 into the millions, working with businesses and homeowners, even artists who want to work with sculpting metals.
“There’s not much we haven’t made…If they can think it, we can build it.”
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