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Companies Of A Century: JH Kelly Focuses On Plumbing Potential In The Pacific Northwest

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By seeing untapped routes of expansion, a small shop becomes one of the region's largest industrial mechanical contractors.

Editor’s Note: Chief Executive is kicking off a new annual tradition this year by celebrating every sizable (over $100 million in annual revenues) standalone company turning 100 in 2023. Check out the rest of this year’s class for tips, insights and, above all else, the inspiration you need to keep going….and going.



HQ: Longview, Washington
Revenues: ~$300 million
Employees: 1,300+ 

JH Kelly’s path to success is proof that spontaneity can spark a sound business decision. Founder ”Jack” H. Kelly, a plumber from Glasgow, was traveling to California in search of better weather when he happened to stop off in a planned town being built by the Long-Bell Lumber Company. While some saw the construction under way in Longview, Washington, as an ambitious undertaking by a visionary named Robert Long, Kelly saw dozens of buildings that would need plumbing. 

In addition to introducing a plumbing shop to downtown Longview, Kelly decided to bring his passion for soccer to the community by starting a soccer team he dubbed the Longview Timber Barons. Comprised of immigrants who had come to America after WWI, the soccer team went on to win the Governor’s Cup and the Oregon and Washington State Championships. Company lore holds that Kelly’s soccer team was more successful than his plumbing business in its early years. 

A New Way Forward 

Eventually, time proved his hunch about Longview’s market potential had been right. By the late 1950s, Jack Kelly’s son, Jack Jr., had established a stable firm that employed a team of plumbers, as well as several apprentices and sales representatives. He had little interest in expanding, and the company might well have ended on his retirement had it not been for Dan Evans, the husband of Jack Kelly Jr.’s daughter Jackie. 

Seeing potential in the small plumbing shop, Evans left a career at Standard Oil to join JH Kelly. A civil engineer with an MBA, he saw opportunity for growth in Southwest Washington’s emerging industrial sector. Evans helped steer the company away from residential work into industrial plumbing and mechanical projects and purchased the company outright when his father-in-law retired in 1974. 

In the decades to follow, JH Kelly expanded into new markets and hired craftsman in millwork and pipe-fitting to move into new areas of expertise. Under the leadership of fourth-generation family member Mason Evans, JH Kelly has continued to pursue emerging opportunities, including investing in fabrication facilities and an electrical service and lighting group. 

Today, the company is one of the largest industrial mechanical contractors in the Pacific Northwest, licensed to operate in 15 states.


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