When he started at the company 20 years ago, Michael Watkins never dreamed he would one day own LaCrosse Enclosures. He was hired to be a quality control manager after earning an associate’s degree in applied science from Somerset Community College.

But over those 20 years, he learned every aspect of the business, which specializes in custom metal fabrication, machining and processing of metal. It also does powder coating and sewing.

When the previous owner’s health issues led him to sell the company, Watkins and his wife, Crystal, decided to buy the company, which is based in Albany. 

If we hadn’t bought it, the company probably would have closed or been moved to the location of its new owner,” Watkins said. “Jobs would have been lost. In such a small town, there aren’t many opportunities. I wanted to keep the business and jobs here in Clinton County, where the business and employees contribute to the tax base.”

LaCrosse Enclosures has 28 employees. The company also works with the local vocational school to provide co-op opportunities for welding students and tries to get the community involved.

Outdoor Venture Corporation in McCreary County is its largest customer. LaCrosse Enclosures makes tent frames for the military for OVC, and it also has military contracts on its own.

Watkins started advertising locally and has picked up several new local clients. He had the business recertified as a HUBZone business, a Small Business Administration program that fuels small business growth in historically underutilized business zones with a goal of awarding at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies each year. The company also is going through the process of being certified as a woman-owned business because Crystal is the majority owner.

“I thought I would take the chance,” he said. “I contacted Kentucky Highlands. They walked me through the steps. It was painless.”

The Kentucky Highlands Empowerment Zone Loan Fund provided financing for the acquisition of the business and some working capital. Even though the Empowerment Zone designation ended years ago, there is still a revolving loan fund that is active in making loans to businesses in the EZ counties of Clinton, Jackson and part of Wayne.