Salt Lake City

Founded: 1987

Privately owned:

Employees: 22

Thriller Manufacturing is living up to its reputation for having some of the best steel fabricators — and coolest toys — in the state of Utah.

The company’s late founder, Dave Fitzgerald, lived his life to the fullest — and fastest. He raced cars and built and piloted planes before an air accident cost him his life in August 2014.

“Not only did the company represent him, he lived his life the same way he ran the company,” says GM Troy Mickelson, who joined the company late last year. “He was always happy to show off the new toys he’d got.”

Fitzgerald started the company making thrill rides and go-carts in the late 1980s, but Thriller has evolved into a busy job shop in the decades since, despite its hair-raising name. Mickelson says Fitzgerald “stayed under the radar and built this company from the ground up.”

The company now works in steel fabrication and welding for the construction and energy industries, and provides manufacturing services for a diverse group of Utah companies, including Asphalt Zipper in Pleasant Grove as well as Salt Lake City-based Cambelt and Innovative Iron.

The Thriller differentiator, says Mickelson, is “upper-end equipment,” including a high-end plasma cutter, a programmable 350-ton press brake for precision bending, and a plate roller. “It’ll roll 20-inch-diameter, one-inch-thick plate steel all day long,” says Mickelson of the latter. Fitzgerald “bought equipment you don’t see in every shop on every street.”

Mickelson calls the company’s NUKON PRO laser cutter “the crown jewel” of Thriller’s equipment. “It’ll cut ¾-inch plate and it also etches.”

Regardless of the machine involved, the company’s forte is problem solving, says Mickelson, pointing to Innovative Iron’s spiral staircases as a prime example. “We figured out a way to roll this where it’s 20 percent the cost of everybody else. The contractors are really liking that.”

Material processing is another Thriller strength. “A lot of people know if they can’t find a specific kind of material, I can find it for them. We have the potential to work with any kind of materials — whatever you need.”

Mickelson credits the company’s employees, several of whom have been with the company for more than 10 years. “Our fabricators are some of the best there are,” he says. “I’ve been in the steel business since I was 15 years old — I’m 54 now — and we’ve got some very talented people here.”

Challenges: The market for welding and fabrication “reminds me of the ’80s and ’90s when you had upswings and downswings,” says Mickelson. Low oil prices are one factor, but he sees another upswing gaining steam: Thriller has a growing number of prospects in the pipeline in 2015. “I’ve been quoting an awful lot,” he says.

Opportunities: Providing services to local steel suppliers who are running at maximum capacity. “The cutting, the bending, the rolling,” explains Mickelson.

He also says Thriller is now approved to bid on federal contracts in all 50 states. “Now I can quote on anything in the country for the government.”

Needs: More production space. “We’re about out of fabrication room,” says Mickelson. “I’m looking at a facility right next door to me — just drive the forklift right over.”

He says he’s seen a recent uptick in demand for screw flights, a market that would require an investment in new equipment, and notes, “That might be something we would look into.”