Ed Hiller's business caters to kids and to kids at heart, many seeking the next big thrill.
Hiller is CEO of Ride Entertainment, a Stevensville-based firm that sells, installs, and even owns and operates rides in amusement parks, zoos, water parks, city parks and other venues in the United States and internationally.
The appeal of amusement park rides is as strong as ever, he said.
"We're having the best year in the history of the company," Hiller said.
Part of that is due to improvement in the economy since 2008 and parks investing more in their facilities, he said. And new markets are emerging as well in China, the Middle East, India and Pacific Rim countries.
"There's been a real resurgence in people wanting family-value entertainment," Hiller said. "We're seeing attendance figures up and people taking their families to local parks and traveling to parks where you take a three-hour drive and spend the night."
Hiller stumbled into the industry while working as an accountant. One of his clients was a roller coaster manufacturer. He left the accounting firm to manage the client's factory in Italy, learning the building side of the business, and then went into sales, selling rides in the United States.
He started Ride Entertainment in 1998 with one sales rep and an assistant, selling roller coasters and water rides from a variety of manufacturers to parks such as Cedar Fair Entertainment, Dollywood, and Six Flags Entertainment. The company expanded into installation after parks requested that service.
Ride expanded later into financial partnerships, installing rides it owns at locations such as parks and splitting the revenue with property owners that manage the rides. It has become the largest company in the United States in that niche, with such arrangements at parks, zoos and science centers and attractions such as carousels, ropes courses and slingshot rides.
The firm also has an operations division that runs rides at several "microparks" in Boston and New York, including the Seaglass Carousel at Battery Park, rides anchored by an historic carousel in Flushing Meadows Park and a zip line, maze and climbing wall on Governors Island.
Ride operated the carousel at Rash Field at the Inner Harbor before it closed in May. This summer the company installed the new 24-story Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth extreme swing ride in Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, the tallest ride in the theme park's history and one created in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products on behalf of DC Entertainment. It spins riders around the tower in a 98-foot circle at 40-miles per hour.
With each new ride, as well as with established ones, safety is always a top concern, Hiller said. Ride safety drew headlines in July, after an 18-year-old man was killed when an attraction called the Fire Ball fell apart mid-ride at the Ohio State Fair. Hiller said he has come to know the manufacturers he works with and feels confident in the testing procedures at facilities where his company is involved.
"Safety is crucial in the industry," Hiller said. "The whole concept is to entertain people and give them an experience in a safe atmosphere."