Startup's technology protects environment, offers source for local manufacturers

[caption id="attachment_13393" align="alignright" width="216" caption="Overhead cranes service linear tanks without spilling."][/caption]

ROHNERT PARK - As if starting a new business during a recession wasn't challenging enough, try starting a metal-treating business. And in a city that has never had one, with a new, confusing building code to comply with.

"The permitting process took several years," said owner and President Joe Osborn, who launched 2Dye4 Anodizing in April in the former quarters of Alvarado Street Bakery in Rohnert Park.

He persevered because he was convinced that the North Bay had enough business to support a second anodizing plant and because he and his team had found the perfect building after looking from Richmond to Healdsburg.

Now he has a state-of-the-art plant with its own water treatment and recycling system, and a straight line of tanks with overhead cranes to move the materials without dripping.

"We needed ceilings over 19 feet, 130 feet of linear space for the tanks and no metal walls to cause condensation. This space has it all," he said.

He and six shareholders raised about $2 million from various sources to build the plant, and he'd like to raise another $1 million. 2Dye4 has five employees, all experienced in the anodizing business.

There hasn't been a new anodizing business north of the Golden Gate for nearly 30 years, and several have closed. But with electronic, biomedical, telecommunications and aerospace manufacturing industries firmly entrenched in the North Bay, the need for anodizing has never been greater.

[caption id="attachment_13396" align="alignright" width="216" caption="Dye vats at 2Dye4"][/caption]

"The Aluminum Anodizers Council estimates that the industry will grow 59 percent during the next two years," said 2Dye4 General Manager Stephanie Mackey. "The opportunity is enormous. Within about a block here we have Rheodyne, Compumotor, Arcturus Marine and Lemo USA."

Most companies previously had to send their anodizing work to South San Francisco, the East Bay, the Peninsula and Southern California, or even out of state to Arizona.

Local anodizers want to keep that business in the North Bay.

"Our business plan called for convincing local manufacturers that we can turn the jobs around faster in an environmentally cleaner process," said Mr. Osborn.

The economic slump has made getting started particularly hard, and Mr. Osborn has been knocking on doors all over the Bay Area to gauge potential business.

"It's coming back. Manufacturers report they're starting to get orders again. And our business is coming along nicely. It looks like August will bring in four times what we had in April."

Mr. Osborn, who founded a machine shop in Novato and teaches metal technology at College of Marin, expected to encounter three hurdles for the new business: the utilities district, the EPA's designated local authority and the city's permitting agency, in that order of difficulty.

But excepting some bureaucratic delays on the part of Rohnert Park, the EPA and the Santa Rosa Utilities Department offered no opposition. In fact, 2Dye4 was welcomed by both the other agencies.

"Anodizing has gotten a bad rep because it's associated with metal plating, which uses cyanide and heavy metals," said Mr. Osborn.

Anodizing doesn't use toxic chemicals, but the chemicals it does use - sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid - were traditionally disposed of down the drain. The EPA permits a certain amount of dumping, and all anodizing operations began before the last few years hold permits.

The process also uses a lot of water, generally drawing on fresh water sources to fill rinsing tanks.

What 2Dye4 proposed was a $100,000 closed system, with chemicals precipitated out of the water, which would then be reused.

"We thought, 'Good luck. You're dreaming,' when we heard that," said Santa Rosa Utilities senior environmental inspector Chris Murray.

"I've been in this business since 1982, and I've heard of closed systems but never saw one."

However, 2Dye4 did it. It sealed off the sewer from the plant floor and doesn't discharge anything into it.

He considers the plant a boon to his department, which is encouraged to promote water and energy conservation and curb pollution.

"They even put in safeguards like hoods up to protect workers from fumes, something they didn't have to do," he said.

"They're an example of how technology in this new century is improving the environment and the lives of workers."

For more information, visit www.2dye4inc.com.