During a drive down Byron Road, you might spot a group of low-slung buildings and figure it's some small ag-related business, maybe even a dairy farm.
You would never guess that it is a sophisticated manufacturing plant producing high-tech farming equipment that generates $65 million in annual sales.
Not bad for a company that started out repairing pallets a half-century ago.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley paid a visit -- and invited the press -- to Oxbo International's plant Thursday, and the company's first location, to highlight the importance of agricultural-adjacent businesses in the 139th Assembly District and in New York State.
"There are many different types of enterprises that highlight the fact that agriculture is not only the number one industrial employer in this area and ag-related businesses like this, not just farming, are critical to our economy," Hawley said.
Plant Manager Chris Chadbourne provided Hawley and reporters with a history of the company before escorting the group on a tour of the facility.
The original pallet repair company became Byron Equipment after filing for a patent on a corn head -- a mechanism to attach to the front of a combine that picks ears of corn off of stalks, leaving the stock behind.
The company then grew through mergers and acquisitions.
In 1998, Byon Equipment acquired a competitor in Wisconsin, and the new management team settled on the name Oxbo, after an oxbow that yolks and ox team together, to symbolize the concept of the new two integrated teams pulling together.
Both plants stayed in production.
In 2003, Oxbo acquired a pea-picking combine company in Illinois and moved that manufacturing operation to Byron. Oxbo is the only manufacturer of a pea-picking combine in the U.S.
In 2004, Oxbo acquired a fruit company in Washington state, and this past June, the company acquired another company in Wisconsin.
One of the biggest mergers came, however, in 2009, when Oxbo merged with its largest customer in Europe and the company's headquarters were moved to the Netherlands.
The company also operates plants now in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and France.
In total, Oxbo employs about 1,200, with 700 employees in the U.S. and 140 in Byron. Gross annual revenue exceeds $400 million for the entire company.
"And one of the founders still lives in the same house he's lived in forever, right up here," said Hawley, pointing to a house on property adjacent to the plant. "Richard 'Lefty' Glazer."
Chadbourne explained that working for Oxbo takes more than a bit of brawn to tighten bolts. The equipment the company makes is sophisticated, exacting, and high-tech. Oxbo needs employees educated enough and smart enough to do the job right.
"The equipment we make is simplistic and what it does, but it's not simplistic and how it acts and what it does on the shop floor or in the field," Chadbourne said. "We need high-quality people that are technically savvy, that can understand and read schematics and understand how things function and work together. It's not just, 'Hey, there's a lever and a clutch' in here anymore. 'We're going to bolt three parts together.' There's a lot of tech that goes into these machines."
Oxbo has been fortunate, Chadbourne said, to have good partners in Genesee County and throughout the region. BOCES and other institutions provide a pathway for students to learn the necessary skills, and they can participate in job training and job shadowing. There's a welding program at Alfred State that helps supply workers.
Employees for Oxbo come to Byron from through the GLOW area and Erie County but Chadbourne thinks the company needs to attract more talent from Monroe County.
"We have some really phenomenal schools in Western New York, and as we continue to grow, we need more of those technical guys," Chadbourne said. "We've got great colleges and universities in Rochester. We need to pull from there."
Photos by Howard Owens.