Government and Military Contracts Save New Madrid Employer

Government and Military Contracts Save New Madrid Employer
By:  Amy Jacquin

New Madird, MO -- Most of our casualties in Iraq come from explosions or mortar rounds. But a New Madrid company is developing cutting-edge ways to keep our military safe.

Kontek used to make concrete and steel buildings for telecommunication companies. But the bottom fell out of that industry in 2001. And Kontek lost millions, until managers turned to the government and business took off in a different direction.

"We escaped the graveyard by reinventing what we do," says Kontek Chairman Charlie Merrill.

About 50 employees at Kontek still work with steel and concrete. Only now they build barriers and buildings to withstand explosions... From mortars like this.

"These fragments explode from the mortar three times faster than a bullet," explains Merrill. "This is what kills people."

An explosives test at the University of Missouri - Rolla last month shows trucks crashing into barriers and buildings exploding. Merrill says his products all passed.

"It's to exciting to go from making something so mundane, to doing something with such impact," he adds.

Merrill says federal law makers from Missouri helped secure $2.4 million in grant money from the defense department, and credits them with continuing to establish contacts with the military.

"Because we are working with the defense department, the military pretty much tells us what they're looking for, what they need, and we try to develop something for them," Merrill explains.

Kontek's business is booming... In four years the company went from the verge of closing, to a record year last year.

"We have quite an impact in the New Madrid economy," he says. "Also in other ways. It's broader than that. We buy a lot of stuff."

Merrill is confident a couple of their new products will generate more military contracts. Kontek products already sit at 12 nuclear power plants and eight air force bases.

"And we're still in the first inning with this!" he says.