With the help and support of Paducah Bank, their business stretches along the mighty Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans. They also supply services and equipment from Australia to ports in Dubai. AC Plus Marine even touches the activities that take place in the darkest depths of the world’s oceans. With the support of Paducah Bank, AC Plus Marine is a local business with a global vision.
Chuck, a 26-year retired Navy veteran, and wife, Cyndie, got their start in the marine maintenance business 13 years ago in the Great Lakes area. “We were a maintenance department for the tow boats working up north,” says Cyndie. “We worked in what is still our specialty, HVAC and refrigeration. But it was a tough business. Fluctuating grain prices and weather made things quite unpredictable. But we discovered the business that takes place on the inland waterways in this area and decided to move our focus to Paducah.
“It was interesting during those first months,” adds Chuck. “All I had was a 1976 Dodge pickup and $200 in tools. I woke up many mornings with my face stuck to those naugahyde seats!
“But it was certainly a great move for us,” says Cyndie. “We already had some relationships with people here, and it really helped that there are shipyards here who needed our services in doing revamps. We can do it all from electrical to steering systems to appliances. But our focus still remains air conditioning systems. There is a great deal of support for barge lines in Paducah, and we were glad to be a part of that.”
The company has even started to see work shifting out of St. Louis to Paducah because of the excellent support here. The owners credit some of their growth and greater visibility to their opposition of the “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy. “That has led us to trademarking our own designs for chiller plants and parts. We’ve been able to design modular items and parts so maintenance can occur quickly with little down time. It’s such a niche market that large manufacturers don’t want to tackle it. But it is a wonderful opportunity for us. We went from a small interim company to a full-fledged design and engineering company with support in every aspect.”
And customer support is what continues to propel AC Plus Marine to the top in marine maintenance. “We’re not a band-aid company,” says Chuck. “Our customers tell us that if we can’t fix it, they know it can’t be fixed. We want to get to the root of their problem, and they know they can leave a problem in our hands, and it will be taken care of. We have the best technicians in the world, and our reputation reflects that. We even do everything we can to get to the vessels, which has made us experts in logistics! I think we know every mud hole, boat launch, and oak tree by so-and-so along the rivers. It’s 28 hours a day, 400 days a year.”
And since relocating to Paducah, Chuck has gotten back to what he loved while in the Navy: saturation diving systems. “We are now building saturation diving systems in-house. We are the only US company that can do that from start to finish.” Some of the items Chuck has built have been shipped all over the world and have even been seen on the Discovery Channel. The systems incorporate life support technology for long-term saturation dives. Each contains a lifeboat of sorts that will bring divers to the surface in case of emergency.
Chuck and Cyndie also build portable units that attach to such chambers if such an emergency arises. “It is used to slowly regulate the conditions for the divers in the chamber to match those on the surface,” Chuck explains. “If someone were to come up and instantly come out, they would die. It takes about five-to-ten days to do that.” And it is AC Plus Marine’s innovation and forward thinking in such areas that puts them on the global map and in a position to dominate a market.
“We really get into it,” laughs Chuck. “If you are going to run a company, you have to get into the front seat, rip out the rearview mirror, and go for it. Without the support of Paducah Bank, we couldn’t have grown like we have.
“We started with them because we like local banks,” adds Cyndie. “We live local, and we want to support local. Our income had been up and down prior to coming here, but they really looked for and figured out ways to help us along. And they’ve always been right there for us. They took great interest in us, and helped get us to where we are today.”
From barges pushing coal down the mighty Mississippi to conducting experiments hundreds of feet below the ocean surface, the ingenuity of AC Marine is keeping this innovative company afloat.