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Ledbetter Toth focuses on utility industry niche

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by Michele Skalicky

SBJ Contributing Writer

Twenty years ago, Louis Toth and James Ledbetter left the security of their jobs to strike out on their own.

The two engineers were working for a consulting firm in Joplin, but neither was satisfied with the service the management provided to its clients. "We thought we could, on our own, probably do a better job," Toth said.

So, with families in tow, Ledbetter and Toth moved to Springfield and started up their own engineering business, now known as Ledbetter, Toth and Associates Inc.

This year, LTA is celebrating its 20th anniversary and enjoying a large client base.

The company employs 41 people and serves 35 rural electric cooperatives with more than 2,000 megawatts of load.

"We look at ourselves as the extension of the staffs of these (electric) systems," Toth said. Anytime a company needs assistance in an area it either has no expertise in or is short-handed, LTA is called upon.

The company designs structures, figures out what type of equipment is needed, helps plan services and future needs, helps decide what fees a company should charge and assists with environmental reports before various agencies.

"We do pretty much everything that has to do with utility industries except generation (of electricity) down to customers," Ledbetter said.

LTA has two more partners now Darold Phillips joined in 1982 and Ken Raming, a 10-year veteran of LTA, joined this year and Toth predicts more partners could be added in the future.

Toth and Ledbetter put a lot of sweat equity into their business in its first year. Often, they worked well into the night to finish a job, and their clients appreciate that commitment. "They know the hours we put in when it's needed and the lengths we go to to make sure the job's done right," Ledbetter said.

But working all night is something Toth and Ledbetter hardly ever have to do anymore, now that they have qualified employees who can be trusted to do the same type of work they would do themselves. "We made it a goal to get trained staff to get the job done," Ledbetter said.

The only time Toth and Ledbetter were concerned they might not make it was when, by Thursday of their first week, they didn't have their first client. "Black Thursday" hit soon after the company started work prospects were gloomy but two months and one client later, the two engineers were confident they would succeed.

LTA has provided jobs for more than 200 people since 1978. While some have left the company, some have been with LTA for about 19 years.

Ledbetter attributed the company's success to a great deal of hard work and dedication. "Our philosophy has been to provide quality work to our clients at reasonable rates," he said.

Toth said reputation has much to do with LTA's success.

"The work that you do for a client is the best recommendation for the next one," he said. That, he added, is one of the things he likes best about his job making sure a client is satisfied. "When you work for someone, and they call you back to do more work, there's a feeling of satisfaction. They trusted you in the first place, but after you've done a job for them, they're ready to trust you again."

Ledbetter hopes to be with LTA at least 10 more years, but he and Toth plan to start training young engineers to take over when they decide to leave the company. "As young engineers come on board, it's always been our thought and mind that they be given the opportunity to join management ranks," Toth said.

Toth added that he can't see himself retiring at 65. "I like the work," he said. "I don't know that I wouldn't be working at 70."

Both Toth and Ledbetter said they feel good about what they've created a source of employment for people seeking work, and a service provided to those who need it.

"We take a lot of pride in what we've accomplished over the years, not only for ourselves, but for our employees and the community," Ledbetter said. "There's a lot of satisfaction in knowing you're part of that creating something that's worthwhile."

PHOTO CAPTION:

LTA now consists of four partners: (l-r) Darold Phillips, James Ledbetter, Louis Toth and Ken Raming.[[In-content Ad]]

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