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Housing component firm celebrates independence Shelter Systems gives tour, lunch


Shelter Systems Limited, a county manufacturer of housing components, celebrated its independence Friday with a tour and luncheon for the county commissioners and officials from its primary financier, Carroll County Bank and Trust.

The Westminster company, formerly part of Shelter Systems Inc., became locally owned when President Dwight Hikel bought out his partner, Leonard Sylk, for about $1.7 million on May 3.

Carroll County Bank and Trust provided $1.5 million for real estate and equipment, said Louna S. Primm, vice president and commercial lending manager. The remainder was financed through the Small Business Administration and Provident Bank of Maryland, she said.

"I basically wanted this to be a family business," said Mr. Hikel, who started the company as part of the nationwide Shelter Systems Inc. in 1975 with Mr. Sylk and Chris Ditzel.

His wife, Linda, and son Joseph work in the company.

"We [the partners] came [to Carroll] because we thought it was central to our Baltimore-Washington market," Mr. Hikel said. Mr. Ditzel retired in 1989.

About 85 employees work at the Stone Chapel Road company, cutting and assembling roof and floor trusses and wall panels from contractors' plans. Architectural drawings are fed into the company computer to determine the quantity and shape of the boards needed for a project.

"Just about anything you can draw, we can make it," Mr. Hikel said. The company has built small homes, large mansions and commercial buildings, he said.

For large jobs, such as Parr's Ridge in Westminster, the company can assemble structures on site.

"We put up the shell for [the builder] and he brings in the other trades," Mr. Hikel said.

Boards come by tractor-trailer or rail from the Southern pine regions of Virginia through Texas, he said. The company is Maryland Midland Railway's second-largest customer in Carroll, receiving about 200 rail cars of lumber a year, Mr. Hikel said.

Each load, worth $35,000 and equaling three tractor-trailers full of lumber, is cut up in two days.

Ninety-five percent of the company's business is outside Carroll County. In addition to marketing on the East Coast, Mr. Hikel sells the partly assembled homes in Poland, Russia and the Caribbean.

The company started trading internationally in 1976, shipping a house to Iran, Mr. Hikel said.

"We're placing a major focus [on export] and think that's a real opportunity," he said. "But we're seeing that trend [more out-of-county sales] reverse, because Carroll County is growing now."

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