By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
Maybe you heard a rumor that Taco Bueno originated in Abilene. (It did.). Or noticed your favorite local burger joint popping up in other cities too. You might not know, however, about the household products manufactured right around the corner, or many of the big names and industry leaders who call Abilene home. We’re profiling just a small sample of such companies – three businesses based here but whose influence extends well beyond the city limits.
Rentech Boiler Systems
One day at a time.
That’s how Jack Rentz says he grew what he envisioned to be a small boutique supplier into a global leader in the boiler manufacturing industry.
After 21 years working in the industry, Rentz went out on his own to open Rentech Boiler Systems in July of 1994, and his first customer came along on Labor Day weekend that year – an engineering firm in Tokyo. Next thing he knew, he had customers in Taiwan and Korea as well. And now, Rentech Boiler Systems includes two associated companies – Rentech Boiler Services and Frontier Welded Products – with a total of 325 employees and customers in 33 countries.
“Within two years of opening, the market just took off,” Rentz said. “If I could claim credit for timing, I would, but it just happened. I was in the right place at the right time. It was totally unexpected.”
The luck of timing aside, a reputation for quality cemented Rentech’s position in the market. Rentech’s registered trademark tag line is “Boilers for people who know and care.” That came about because Rentz realized many of his competitors really didn’t care and were only looking at dollars. He was interested in marketing to people “who pay for quality and recognize it when they see it.”
Today, Rentz is mostly retired, but that reputation for quality also helped him find his successor. About 13 years ago, Mark Colman, now Rentech’s president, was working for another company in the industry in Atlanta. A mutual friend connected him with Rentz, who was looking for a vice president of operations.
“Rentech had a very good reputation in the industry,” Colman said. “Jack had a good reputation, and he was known for having good products. When I came to Abilene and interviewed, I saw they also had a very good process. What they were doing then, and what we are doing now, I never would have expected to see in Abilene.”
Colman moved to Abilene and took over operations in 2005 and was named president in 2016 when Rentz retired. In the time since he arrived, Rentech’s revenue has approximately doubled. The company also has found ways to build and ship even larger boilers, through using trailers and shipping things partially assembled. Exports are about 50 percent of their business, and their customers include familiar names like Valero, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Harvard University, Yale University, Cornell University, University of Massachusetts and several other Ivy League universities.
Although Abilene might seem an unlikely spot for such an operation, Rentz said a smaller city has it advantages.
“It’s easier to make things happen in a smaller town,” he said “Everything we need, there’s somebody in Abilene who provides it. And if you live here long enough, you know who to call. The people here have a good work ethic too. We have an employee who just retired in December who worked for me since 1977. Several people have spent their entire career in industry with us. People don’t bounce around. “
In his retirement, Rentz demonstrates his Abilene commitment by serving on the city council. He’s also heavily involved with the Texas Trails Council of Boy Scouts of America.
“I need something to do, and I wanted to stay active in community,” he said of his decision to run for the city council. “It’s a good time in my life to do it.”