Making a Splash
Cindy Davis Meixel
The picture on the PDC Spas Web site is the very epitome of luxury: a beautiful, bubbling hot tub; a handsome young couple; a redwood deck with a panoramic view of lush mountains. And it is, in fact, a completely homegrown image, right down to the hot tub nestled in those Lycoming County mountains. PDC Spas and three generations of Livingston family entrepreneurial spirit created that tub. The seeds of the now-international business were sown over fifty years ago in a Williamsport fabrication company, Plastic Development Company, founded by David Livingston, Sr.
For Dave Sr., Plastic Development was a second job, as he also worked for PP&L. In those early days, PDC made fiberglass sides for pools, bodies for Jeeps, burial vaults, and other special jobs for people in the area. The little shop was busy, and by the 1970s his son, Dave Livingston, Jr., was involved, too.
While teaching business in the Loyalsock School District and fabricating with his dad as a second job, Dave Jr. saw the potential in warm water spas in the late 1970s. And so he began manufacturing gel coat and fiberglass spas to meet a growing demand. By 1981, PDC had invested all its resources in producing spas for the Northeast, and Dave Jr. left his teaching career behind. That leap of faith was tested almost immediately, as a devastating fire leveled the business in 1983.
Undeterred, Dave and his wife Lynda, PDC Spas vice president, rebuilt, and in 1984 moved to their present location. It was a much larger building, and Lynda says that back then they could not imagine ever filling the space. But it has been a phoenix ever rising, and since then they have added onto the building multiple times, with a current expansion bringing the size of the plant to over 80,000 square feet.
They developed new manufacturing techniques, designing a stronger, better unit. The company purchased and programmed a robot that is precise enough for their exacting standards, and flexible enough to drill the holes needed in a myriad of spa styles. Tim Martin, vice president of sales for PDC, explains the difference in PDC’s manufacturing process, part of the drive and vision that led the company to grow from a Northeast manufacturer to a worldwide leader in spas. In essence, each spa is custom built for the user. The buyer selects a finish, size, style package, and the spa is made as ordered. The acrylic shell is shaped on a mold, then strengthened with adhesive and fiberglass, which is hand rolled for maximum durability. Then the robot drills the holes for jets, an air massage system, and controls, after which the plumbing, motors, electronics, insulation, and cabinetry are installed by hand. The shipping area is full of the customized spas whose shipping wrap is emblazoned with the buyers’ last names, ready to go home.
The quality control and water testing happens right on the production line. The factory floor feels more like a workshop of experienced craftsmen than an assembly line. Tim says that as a ten-year employee, he is one of the “young ones,” since many of PDC’s employees have been with the company for decades. When asked why the company has continued to manufacture in Williamsport, both Lynda and Tim say that a large part of that decision is the dedication and attention to detail of the people who create the spas.
Three years ago, in the midst of a deep recession, Dave and Lynda took another leap, this time into the manufacturing of swim spas. These larger units combine the exercise benefits of a pool with the relaxation and hydrotherapy of a spa. When asked about the move, Lynda notes that an aging population will invest in swim spas for the health benefits and the ability to use a heated hot tub year round in most climates, making them a bigger value for people in colder parts of the world. This type of spa takes even more custom drilling and fitting by the production staff, but they have excelled in bringing the new line to life. So much so that within two years PDC was the largest seller of swim spas in the country, with the plant currently manufacturing over twelve units a week and the capacity to expand as demand increases.
The future looks bright for PDC, as yet another generation of Livingstons—son Chad Livingston—took his business degree and knowledge gained in his work in the family business into the foundation of a new business in 2010, NORtech Energy Solutions. Like his parents, he is finding manufacturing answers to problems—in Chad’s case, solutions for the burgeoning gas industry. It’s a long way from the small fabrication plant, and a fitting tribute to a long line of entrepreneurs and craftsmen.