Betts Co. employee Avelino Meza winds a red-hot coil at the Fresno manufacturing facility last week. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
What started as a British immigrant’s venture in the American West has become a 150-year-old family-owned business and one of the most prominent manufacturers in the Central Valley.
“Our purpose statement is ‘improving the way things move since 1868,’” said Mike Betts, CEO. “We’re always trying to innovate and focus on continuous improvement in everything we manufacture.”
The story of Betts Co. can be traced back to Englishman Michael William Betts I, who arrived in the United States in 1860, shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Building springs for horse-drawn carriages and eventually rail cars, Betts first set up shop in St. Louis, Missouri, but after seeing the opportunity afforded by Westward expansion, took his business to San Francisco in 1868.
During the Great Earthquake of 1906, the business was destroyed and rebuilt. Tragedy would strike again just a few decades later.
When the founder’s son Percy George Betts passed away before the Great Depression, his wife Emeline took over the company, leading them through not only the economic crisis, but also World War II. During the conflict, the company would put itself to work manufacturing equipment to aid in the war effort. This included recovery springs for all sizes of weapons, including naval guns, as well as equipment for the tanks.
In 1988, Betts Truck Parts & Service opened up its first shop in San Leandro, before fully moving to Fresno and opening 2009.
Today, Betts Co. continues to make springs and parts for trucks and other machinery, in addition to an eight-location resale/wholesale parts operation, along with service shops. With Mike Betts as CEO, Bill, his son, is the sixth president of the company, taking the position in 2015.
For its part, Betts Co. has been active in the region’s manufacturing scene and Mike Betts serves as the current chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance, an organization devoted to building the workforce in their field through education and training.
There is pressure to keep the family legacy going, but Bill stated that he takes inspiration from the perseverance of his family.
“One of the cool things about our history is when we think we’re having a bad day, traffic was a little rough, whatever — you go back and think of everything that each generation did to put us in position where we are today,” said Bill Betts. “It really keeps us grounded and appreciative of where we’re at.”