Water Warriors: Caring for the World’s Greatest Resource

ACO, Inc.
Written by Allison Dempsey

Recognizing the value of protecting natural resources and preserving the environment, ACO, Inc. is dedicated to building and maintaining infrastructure and promoting safety in business, transportation, and industry, via numerous products created with the intention of having a beneficial impact on how one of the planet’s most precious resources—water—is used.

Founded in Ohio in January 1978, ACO, Inc. is considered the pioneer of modular trench drain systems. The first company to use this “system approach” of factory-made parts and pieces that can be assembled by workers at a construction site into a complete trench drain system without the need for traditional specialist craftsmen, ACO’s complex formworks for stormwater catchment are routinely required by clients, architects, and engineers for various projects.

Since its inception 45 years ago, ACO’s modular systems have now become “more of the norm” for designers and contractors in many varied installations, says CEO Derek Humphries.

“The success of ACO’s modular trench drain systems has led to constant innovation in many areas, from enlarging the width portfolio from the initial four-inch-wide system to a wide variety of grates in different designs and materials which could withstand everything from pedestrians to airplanes,” Humphries says.

As the company continued its impressive and successful growth, a second U.S.-based factory was built in 2005 in Arizona, just south of Phoenix, which was then doubled in size in 2011. The company’s continuous diversification into other stormwater and drainage products led to a new Ohio factory being purchased at twice the size of the original. A further addition was recently added to the Ohio factory, and the company has also invested in building a state-of-the-art stainless-steel facility in Arizona complete with its own pickle passivation and electropolishing facility to support its growth into providing stainless steel solutions for the market.

Embracing its company claim, “ACO. we care for water,” and its dedication to water cycle and stormwater solutions, the company continually strives to create a better world and a healthier planet through products specifically designed to do just that.

“The evolution of ACO’s business of being a provider of stormwater and wastewater solutions has evolved to a situation where today the company believes that its goal is to not only protect people from water, but also protect water from people,” Humphries says. “‘We care for water’ is the rallying cry for ACO as it is important that not only do we help collect the water as a result of precipitation, but the company is actively involved in the ‘cleaning’ of this collected water of media varying from sediments to sludges, oils, fats, grease, and even heavy metals as a result of galvanizing elements from structures, roofs, and other areas.”

Once the water has been cleaned of these impurities, it will require some buffering before release back into the hydrological cycle, he adds. Due to the higher awareness of and demand for ecological sustainability in this day and age, clean stormwater can either be used to infiltrate directly back into the groundwater aquifers, or be reused for secondary functions such as irrigation.

“With the greater demand for usable land, these buffering systems are increasingly being installed underground to optimize the surface areas for landscape, parking zones, and other areas,” Humphries explains.

To fulfill this need, ACO has been at the forefront of designing, developing, and manufacturing plastic structural elements with expected lifespans of more than 50 years. This research and development has resulted in an evolution of products that not only lead the way in collecting stormwater, but also serve a critical function of Low Impact Development, as it is now mandatory for developers to provide plans for handling the effects of increasing stormwater events.

In its decades of valuable experience in the industry, ACO has also come to believe in and support the importance of manufacturing locally.

“The two manufacturing sites in the U.S. allow ACO to support the Made in America mandate required on many federal and state funding projects,” Humphries says. “In addition to this, manufacturing locally provides products that are right for the American market and provides the opportunity for fast, quality support to the market.”

Having manufacturing in the U.S. also allows ACO as a company to provide employment career opportunities both in white-collar positions and in the skilled trades, he adds.

Manufacturing locally was also beneficial during the COVID pandemic, during which ACO invested in building a greenfield facility on its Casa Grande, Arizona site to manufacture solely stainless steel drainage products, both for the commercial market sector and its award-winning linear shower drains.

“This brand-new facility was also built with its own in-house pickle passivation and electropolishing plant so that the quality, American-made products could be given a top-of-the-line finish whether it be for aesthetic reasons—linear shower drains—or hygienic reasons—hygienic stainless steel drainage,” Humphries explains.

Along with its numerous other markets, ACO has been a supplier to the civil engineering sector for the past 45 years. 15 years ago, ACO pioneered the use in North America of linear shower drainage manufactured from stainless steel.

“These boutique, designer-led products allowed designers more freedom to the bathroom floor, and ACO was able to offer award-winning designs to the floor which continue to this day,” Humphries shares. “With ACO’s philosophy of manufacturing in the United States, the company has made these products from day one and will continue to do so.”

All businesses face challenges, of course, and recent ones have included dealing with the pandemic and everything it brought with it, such as illness, supply chain issues, and industry and production uncertainty. ACO persevered, however, and took great care to place the safety of its employees at the forefront.

“With 2020, we experienced the COVID crisis and keeping our employees both safe and employed was a major priority,” says Humphries. “This challenge was followed immediately by the supply chain crisis. ACO’s philosophy of American manufacturing allowed the company to navigate this very successfully, unlike many other companies in the building material supply sector who are dependent on overseas manufacture and suffered serious delays.”

Moving forward, ACO is embracing a breadth of plans for ongoing success and growth, including a continuous investment program which will allow a constant stream of new and improved products to come to market. In addition to this, ACO believes in the use of technology to support its product offerings and will bring additional online tools to its customer base and partners to optimize doing business with ACO.

The company’s success lies not only in its product development and offering, however. Its qualified, knowledgeable, and dedicated people have ensured ACO’s place in the business of making the planet better and healthier for everyone.

“We have many long-tenured employees and this year we will celebrate 45 years of loyalty from one employee who joined ACO the day it was formed as a business and opened its doors for the first time in the United States,” says Humphries. “Our people are definitely what set ACO apart from similar companies.”



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