*Story courtesy of Creative Edge Master Shop
(October 9th, 2018) Creative Edge Master Shop has been a pillar of the manufacturing community in Fairfield for the past 30 years. Now CEO Jim Belilove has announced a transition of ownership to a chosen buyer, Weaton Capital, which will continue Belilove’s legacy and retain operations in Fairfield. The sale includes two other divisions of Creative Edge (ToolKeepers and Resilient Flooring) and became effective October 1st, with Belilove remaining involved as a principal for four years.
“Nate Weaton is a born-and-bred Iowan and Fairfield resident with deep roots in this community,” says Belilove. “He plans to be involved in daily operations at our factory in Fairfield. Although he provided the investment capital through his company, Weaton Capital, he’s not an arms-length investor. He’s a ‘roll up your sleeves’ investor.”
Weaton says that his company’s guiding principle is to protect and value the founder’s legacy when they invest in a company. “We hung out our shingle because we want to be local, we want to invest in Iowa businesses,” he says.
Josh Laraby, executive director of Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA)—whose mission is to facilitate economic growth in Fairfield by supporting existing Fairfield businesses and recruiting new ones—calls it “a perfect marriage between a local business founder and a local entrepreneurial investor.”
It’s a story of successful Fairfield development—first because Jim Belilove and Creative Edge have been important supporters of FEDA and the Fairfield business community for 30 years, and second because Weaton Capital, a new Fairfield business, is providing security for Creative Edge’s employees and retaining its Fairfield location into the future.
30 Years of Supporting the Fairfield Economy
In many ways, it’s a happy continuation for a story that started 30 years ago.
“From the start, Creative Edge was a local business that not only promoted growth in Fairfield but had a global reach,” says Laraby.
Back in 1988, abrasive-waterjet technology was relatively unknown, used for cutting frozen vegetables and windshields, its artistic potential untapped. It was Creative Edge that pioneered the use of waterjet-technology to create intricate, Renaissance-quality designs for stone and tile flooring. Today the Creative Edge brand is known all over the world for creating more than 10,000 floors and wall murals in hotel lobbies, airports, children’s hospitals, churches, and government buildings from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia.
The sheer range of their projects is astounding. Just a few of their high-profile, award-winning projects include the Astronaut Memorial at Kennedy Space Center, the visitor’s center at West Point and the entryway to Disney World in Florida. Three recent projects that won major national industry awards: the marble lobby medallion at the Bellagio Las Vegas; the steel-and-granite Spotlight on Broadway sidewalk installation in Times Square; and the 69,000-square-foot decorative terrazzo floor at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
According to Laraby, Creative Edge has been an iconic Fairfield employer. Many of Belilove’s 40 employees have been with him for 20 years or more—and he’s already retired 16 people who have spent their full career with Creative Edge.
“That’s extremely rare, for a company to retain and sustain its employees like that,” Laraby points out. “And coming from the voice of the employees, it’s because of the congenial and high-quality company culture. That goes a long way.”
Creative Edge has also been generous in installing their beautiful art in key locations in Fairfield. Local installations by Creative Edge include spectacular lobby floors of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, the Student Center at Maharishi University of Management, First National Bank, Iowa State Bank, Libertyville Bank, the Jefferson County Veteran’s Monument and new storefront signage as part of the recent renovation of the town square.
Laraby says that Creative Edge has helped diversify the local economy. “Jim creates these magnificent art pieces and is a unique part of the manufacturing sector,” says Laraby. “That contributes to a more diversified and therefore stronger economy for Fairfield.”
Laraby also notes that Creative Edge has been a stable resident within FEDA’s first industrial park, occupying their own 120,000-square-foot building.
Finally, Creative Edge is one of the few Fairfield companies that exports a made-in-the USA product to other countries, contributing to both the national and local economies.
“People often think that this level of artistry could only be created overseas with cheaper labor,” says Belilove. “But Creative Edge installations are actually a perfect combination of American manufacturing and American design.”
Belilove and his wife, Ginger, have also been strong supporters of the arts and business community in Fairfield.
A Supportive Community for Businesses
In his global business travels Belilove has served as a kind of ambassador for Fairfield. “Ginger and I have grown our business in Fairfield for thirty years because we love it here,” says Belilove. “And I’m always proud to say that our business is based in Fairfield. It’s a great place to live and work from.”
Jim Belilove points out that Iowa is now rated the best state in the country for a wide variety of factors such as business opportunity, education, and quality of life, according to US News & World Report’s Best States Rankings.
The supportive financial structure is one reason Fairfield is a fertile ground for business. Belilove says that Creative Edge has received essential loans through FEDA and local banks over the years.
“Iowa State Bank has been in this community since 1934 and is a community-invested
bank,” he says. “They’re tied to the nurture and health of Fairfield. I’ve worked with a number of bank presidents, and each one extended the previous president’s goodwill towards Creative Edge.”
That goodwill came into play on three occasions when Creative Edge was experiencing challenges and got behind on their payments. “Each time I got a call from the bank, asking to meet with me. A lot of times that is a really bad call to get. But instead it was always, ‘Jim, how can we help you?’”
“Management and ownership succession are universal challenges for businesses across Iowa. I couldn’t be more pleased with Jim and Nate coming together to solve both of these issues for Creative Edge. They’re a powerful duo and will complement each other very well,” says Aaron Kness, President/CEO of Iowa State Bank & Trust Co.
“At Iowa State Bank we take pride in providing value to business clients beyond loans and deposit accounts. Two of the most impactful services we provide are not in any of our brochures or marketing materials, such as helping to build strategic alliances and assisting in transactions that make our clients stronger and more successful.”
Belilove feels that it was Iowa State Bank’s confidence in Creative Edge that not only allowed him to continue but also led to other important financing, such as the six low-interest loans provided by Regional Economic Development Incorporated (R.E.D.I.) that he has received through FEDA.
“A R.E.D.I. loan is a regional revolving loan fund for business development that FEDA provides to qualified businesses,” says Laraby. “Each time the business owner pays back the loan, it becomes available to help another owner to expand operations.”
With their most recent R.E.D.I. loan, for instance, Creative Edge was able to purchase new waterjet machines and upgrade existing equipment.
“The R.E.D.I. Revolving Loan Fund has been an important ally to Creative Edge and has made possible several expansions over the years,” says Belilove. “This new loan allows us to add high-tech equipment and productive capacity to fuel the growth in our ToolKeepers Division and has allowed us to add ten new jobs for Fairfielders.”
Protecting and Valuing the Founder’s Legacy
With Belilove’s love of Fairfield and his investment in the community, he was looking for a transition partner who would continue operating Creative Edge from Fairfield.
“I knew I wanted a buyer who considers being located in the state of Iowa and the city of Fairfield to be good thing, not just something you have to put up with, or somewhere you don’t really want to be,” says Belilove.
But as the years passed without finding the right partner, he was beginning to wonder. “My wife joked that I would be still working here until I reached 100,” says Belilove.
Enter Nate Weaton, who recently established Weaton Capital as founder and partner, and purchased Creative Edge as the company’s third investment, which he feels is a perfect fit, like “inserting a square peg in a square hole.”
Weaton brings a wealth of relevant experience to the Creative Edge purchase agreement. His career has a solid balance of entrepreneurial ventures and large public-company experiences. Most recently, he was with Dover Corporation serving as Vice President and General Manager of their Hill Phoenix Specialty Products Division inn Keosauqua, IA, their Case Division in Richmond, VA, and ended his career with Dover Refrigeration and Food Equipment as Senior Vice President of Business Development.
In 2017 he left Dover and made the decision to work in Fairfield, where he has lived for the past 20 years. He has deep roots here, raising a family of five children, with his youngest in 7th grade. His wife, Lori Schaefer-Weaton, is president of Agri-Industrial Plastics in Fairfield. Nate Weaton also serves on the board of ABI and is active in organizations such as Elevate Iowa and Elevate Manufacturing.
Weaton and his partners are passionate about working in Fairfield and giving back to the community. He volunteers as a Fairfield High School football coach, and is involved in a series of civic outreach organizations, from Habitat for Humanity to Little Super Heroes Foundation to the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.
All of his business experience—and his Fairfield connection—comes into play in his new role at Weaton Capital. “We can take all the experience in the big company and bring what was good about it back to Fairfield—bring the resources back, bring the relationships back, the connections back,” says Weaton.
Weaton’s vision for Creative Edge? “You keep doing what you’re doing,” he says. “You build on the really great thing, which is the beautiful stuff across the globe that they create, that has an impact. I wouldn’t change the brand, I wouldn’t change the product. I think there are other markets we can go after—and Jim and I have talked about that. But I would keep doing what we’re doing, just do it more often and more of it, and expand. You see this beautiful stuff across the globe, and it’s having an impact. That’s what I find exciting.”
Helping Fairfield Businesses Grow through Succession Planning
Weaton Capital is poised to invest in other businesses in Southeast Iowa because Nate Weaton sees it as a great place to do business.
“There are a lot of really positive aspects to Iowa,” he says. “You can touch on all the hot buttons: values, work ethic, work force, quality of life. We have a great education system—one of the best community college systems in the nation. It’s a great place to raise families. And from a pure business perspective—we’re right smack in the middle of the US. We can ship to both coasts, north and south.”
Weaton and his partners feel that the Creative Edge agreement is a good working model for other companies they invest in: as with Creative Edge, they plan to be hands on, to be involved with day-to-day operations, and to continue the founder’s legacy.
In other words, Weaton Capital provides something that many small businesses are lacking: a succession plan.
“This is particularly an issue in small towns,” says Belilove. “The pool of potential buyers is limited, the kids move away and if you look around there’s a lot of business owners like me—they have a successful company but they don’t have a successor.”
Josh Laraby agrees. “It’s important for resources like Weaton Capital to be available to Fairfield companies, to engage in conversations about succession plans,” he says. “This is important across all sectors—retail, manufacturing, finance, healthcare, every type of business.”
Belilove says that he’s willing to be a poster child for the kind of succession planning that Weaton Capital provides. “They can invest in companies and help them expand and grow and continue for generations in the way the founder intended,” he says.
Belilove laughs when he shares the way he pictures the transaction.
“I was driving the stagecoach, and then Nate Weaton climbed aboard,” he says. “We came to an agreement, and without stopping it or changing how Creative Edge operates, he will now have the reins. It’s the same stagecoach and the same direction. That’s a good image of how this will work. It’s way different from someone coming in from the outside.”