The History of Ozark Steel
Through the generations, steel work has been in the blood of the Laut family. Walter Laut worked as the foreman for Ridgewood Steel in St. Louis, Missouri, in the early decades of the twentieth century. His son, William Laut, followed in his father’s footsteps, beginning as a crane operator for Mississippi Valley Structural Steel Co. while still in high school. William, or Bill as many called him, was a natural to steel work, using his skills to serve his country, welding out barges that would go on be landing crafts during WWII, and later working as a fitter at Ridgewood Steel. Whenever there was a difficult task like driving rivets or the need for high-precision stair work, Bill was the man people trusted to get the job done. As he worked his way up to general manager at Ridgewood, Bill began to think about how he could take his work to the next level.
A New Business Takes Shape
While still working at Ridgewood, Bill sowed the seeds of starting a business along with fellow coworker and shop superintendent Norman Carron. They tested out taking jobs on the side, with Bill fabricating clothing racks and other small projects out of his garage. After experiencing success with the small-scale jobs, the pair purchased a Quonset hut in Farmington, Missouri, that once stood as a cattle auction barn. Though the building and the company’s beginnings were humble, Bill and Norman had a much grander vision for the space and their future. With an all-hands-on-deck mentality, Bill recruited help from his three young sons, Bob, Gary, and David, who helped their dad clear out the building, tearing down the auction bleachers and grandstand and repurposing the wood into an office. With their shop in place and some “well-loved” secondhand equipment at the ready, Ozark Steel was officially incorporated a few days before Christmas in December 1962.
In the early days, Ozark Steel served clients in the Farmington and St. Louis areas, securing jobs due to Bill’s reputation for hard work and an excellent finished product. They fabricated steel for small commercial buildings, like churches, schools, and retail stores, as well as projects for the lead mines in the Flat River region. A fair but demanding man, Bill expected the best out of his employees, and many took that mentality to heart. In return the company began to grow—with more jobs coming through the doors, the company was able to invest in bigger and better equipment and more employees.
William “Bill” Laut, founder of Ozark Steel Fabrication.
Staff photo from the 1980s. (Jimmy is this right?)
The Next Generation Shows What its Got
As the company grew, Bill’s three sons found unique areas of interest of their own in the steel business. With a talent for drawing, Bob gravitated towards drafting, back in the days when everything was done by hand. After Bob graduated high school and served in the Air Force, steel detailer Dick Miney took him under his wing, showing him the ins and outs of converting architectural plans into structural steel drawings that could be used in the shop. Bob would also bring Ozark into the computer age by attending IMB school in the 1980s, where he learned to code software that would help streamline administrative processes for the company. After graduating high school, Gary served in the Navy, then came back to the family business and found a home for himself in sales, working his way up to sales manager. During high school David took naturally to working in the shop, finding his calling in the production side of the business. He’d eventually become lead on the production floor. With a lot of hard work, mutual respect for one another, and a real heart for the business’s success, the three brothers would help set Ozark on the path for success well into the new millennium.
Tapping Into a New Market
A turning point came in the 1980s, when the brothers pushed the business to expand into a new market. They didn’t want to be a jack of all trades but master of none—they wanted to be a niche fabricator who could specialize in one type of work. Specialization would allow the production team to focus on efficiency and producing the best possible work. With this vision in mind, the company set their sites on much larger jobs in the Chicago market. The brothers rearranged machinery in the shop, incorporated new computers into their process, and focused heavily on the efficiency of workflow, minimizing the number of times a piece of steel had to be picked up. That focus paid off, and the company completed jobs with fewer man hours than their competitors, causing the scale of jobs as well as the business to grow exponentially.
The Future and Beyond
To this day, Ozark Steel is a staple in the Chicago and St. Louis markets, known for doing whatever it takes to get a job done right and providing start-to-finish solutions for contractors. Under new ownership since 2017, the plans for the future look a lot like the company’s history—providing high-quality, efficient steel fabrication, setting and meeting high expectations, and doing right by their customers and employees for years to come.