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Manhattan-based company part of $8.6 million merger

By Bryan Richardson

A local aerospace electronics company with humble beginnings is now a part of a multi-million-dollar deal.

ICE Corporation, founded in a Kansas State University dorm room in 1973, has been purchased by Ultra Electronics, a defense, aerospace, security, transport and energy company based in the United Kingdom.

On Friday, officials closed the $8.6 million deal, which was announced Tuesday on the London Stock Exchange.

Up to $3 million in additional payments could happen with certification of the new WheelTug electric taxi system, which allows planes to taxi and maneuver without turning on the main engine (and thereby saving money in fuel costs). ICE provides essential parts for the system.

This purchase ended a two-year courtship between the two companies.

Ultra officials visited the ICE facility Monday to discuss the acquisition with employees.

Rob McDonald, Ultra managing director, said every member of the management team has visited ICE prior to the deal.

“Normally out of a team of 10 people, you have somebody expressing some concern,” he said. “No one has ever expressed a single reservation about this business. Not one.”

Bob Henry, Ultra divisional strategy director, said the company had been looking to acquire a company in the U.S. as Ultra’s civil aviation industry work grew.

“We have, over the last number of years, grown our customer base, and now we have a lot of U.S. customers,” he said. “Like any country and organization, they would like to be served more locally.”

McDonald said Boeing and Gulf Stream are among the U.S. customers added by the company.

He said Ultra’s ability to service U.S. customers has been limited by geography — something they think ICE will solve.

“You can’t get much more central in the United States than where we are now, so that’s great” McDonald said. “We have customers on the west coast, the east coast and the Northeast.”

Randy O’Boyle, ICE president, said ICE’s 53 full-time employees, 13 part-time employees and eight interns don’t need to worry about the company being moved.

“The thing you always worry about is a business that’s up and coming being bought and then moved,” he said. “That’s actually the opposite. This was a strategic purchase. For the company here, it only means growth in my opinion.”

ICE got its start by designing and manufacturing de-icer timer for planes. It won its first contract in 1975 for Cessna.

O’Boyle said the company is currently expanding its space with a 4,500-square-foot addition scheduled for completion by the end of August.

He said the expansion plans predate the Ultra offer.

“The fact that continued ought to set people’s minds at ease,” O’Boyle said.

The addition, he said, almost doubles the active production space where the company designs, manufactures and tests products.

“There’s not a lot of companies that do all of that in house,” O’Boyle said. “That’s part of our niche we’re able to offer to our customers.”

Lyle Butler, Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce president, said he took a trip to ICE at its old location on Levee Drive 14 years ago.

He said there were eight full-time employees and a couple of part timers.

“I was part of watching and looking at this emerging company that was young and trying to get its feet on the ground,” he said. “To look at where they are today with expansion and being sold to a partnership is really good.”

O’Boyle said ICE will maintain the status quo on employee growth while the merger transition occurs.

He said this will probably be revisited six months from now with more people being hired eventually.

“I think the future is bright,” O’Boyle said.

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