By Dylan Sullivan, NRDC
Thirty-five years ago, when Bob Ready began his lighting business, he started out small, in “a Cincinnati garage, with four employees,” he recalls.
Back then, he saw a niche opportunity—creating energy-efficient lighting for the lower-cost, self-service gas stations that sprang up after the Arab oil embargo of the mid-1970s. (Gas prices rose then by 400%.) Ready developed a more efficient light to hang under the elevated canopies that shelter gas pumpers from inclement weather.
Fast-forward to our current era of spiking gas prices, and Bob Ready’s Blue Ash, Ohio-based LSI Industries is a significant player in the national lighting industry. The company is now publicly traded, with more than 1400 employees in the US and Canada—eight or nine hundred of them in Ohio alone.
Over the last 35 years, the company has grown here in the US while most lighting suppliers have shifted their production overseas. And it’s survived the Great Recession even as others have faltered and failed.
The answer is in the company’s focus on energy-efficient lighting solutions, and the support those solutions have found among commercial and industrial customers seeking to maximize their energy and pollution savings. “We develop the type of products that are needed throughout the world,” Ready explains. LSI also produces equally efficient video graphics displays for sporting venues, retailers and restaurants.
No longer the small business Bob Ready initially imagined, LSI now supports a manufacturing plant in Columbus and a video graphics facility in North Canton, in addition to its corporate headquarters. In Erlanger, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, its manufacturing plant employs 100.
In particular, LSI’s line of Light Emitting Diode (“LED”) lighting has raised the company’s profile. The lights allow customers to save 40 to 80 percent or more on their lighting energy costs. This innovative and rapidly evolving lighting technology not only slashes users’ utility bills, it also cuts the power-plant pollution that endangers our children’s health and threatens our fragile atmosphere. (Check out this blog post about how the US Department of Energy shepherded pollution-sparing LEDs from a nascent technology to the most important trend in lighting today, written by my colleague Dale Bryk.)
“Most of the opportunity for our products is in taking existing lighting systems that are using a lot of energy and retrofitting them,” explains LSI president Scott Ready, who is Bob’s eldest son. For all their benefits, though, LEDs face obstacles in the marketplace. While their lifetime costs are significantly lower than traditional lighting, their higher up-front costs sometimes deter customers from making the switch.
Luckily for LSI and for the hundreds of people it employs in Ohio, government and utility incentives designed to maximize the benefits of energy efficiency have “certainly helped our business grow here in the US,” says Scott Ready.
That growth in the US is important to Bob Ready, a proud veteran. “Our slogan is ‘American innovation, American made.’ I’m committed to that,” Ready says. He doesn’t think his company “could have done what we’ve done without being in the US.” And LSI’s popularity around the globe has been buttressed by its wares’ “Made in the USA” label. “Internationally,” Ready says, “there’s a high level of interest in American-made products. I think they’re better made. And our commitment has been to give the customer a better value for his investment.”
Value for investment is something Ready knows a lot about. Consider the investment he made in energy efficiency 35 years ago, at a time of skyrocketing oil prices: that investment has paid off far beyond Ready’s imaginings, employing hundreds of Ohioans, slashing energy costs for businesses and consumers alike, and cutting the pollution that threatens our health and our fragile atmosphere.