Friday, February 22, 2019

Sign of the times: Danville company working hard to dazzle Las Vegas

Shannon Stine, an employee at Watchfire Signs in Danville, tests the LEDs in a new sign. 

    At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much in common between the glitz of Las Vegas and the grit of Danville.     
     Vegas is a thriving desert metropolis, world-famous as a gaudy adult oasis floating on a sea of gambling money. Danville, a small community of modest homes, is a once-thriving town that has never been the same since the GM plant shut down 30 years ago.
     Wealth is on flashing display everywhere in Las Vegas. Five years ago, the U.S. government called Danville the cheapest place to live in the United States.
     What could the connection be?
     The flashing signs are the giveaway.       

      Go to Danville, 120 miles south of Chicago. Turn down Maple Street, to where it dead-ends with the unfortunately-named Bahls Street, a source of never-ending guffaws from truckers making pickups and deliveries. There you will find Watchfire Signs, which right now is constructing the largest digital display in the world, a $30 million, four-block long, barrel-vaulted, 130,000 square foot video screen that, when complete, will form a canopy above Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
     Watchfire employs about 320 people manufacturing and selling LED signs. If you drive down the Kennedy, you've already seen their work: Watchfire manufactures video billboards for JCDecaux. The company began in 1945 as Time-O-Matic, producing grids of bulbs under bank signs telling the time and temperature. The company also created flashing signs for Vegas casinos.
     They've grown considerably over the past decade, discarding their mechanical-sounding name, and now tackling the biggest sign ever attempted, beating out 15 other companies worldwide that bid on the job.
     "For a company like ours, this is a huge project," said Steve Harriott, president and CEO. "For any company — it's is the biggest screen in the world."
     Manufacture began last month. To see it, you must put on an anti-static smock and booties before entering the state-of-the-art assembly room.

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  1. I always enjoy these inside looks at small sort-of-local companies that make a hitherto unknown big splash in the world, or a small one for that matter. It's as if we're now privy to a secret shared by a select few only.


  2. Good for them!

    I don't know if it applies in this case in particular, but one of the big problems in outsourcing projects of this nature to China or wherever is quality control. The stuff arrives, there's a problem with it, and you're faced with the expense of shipping it back and the trouble of convincing your "overseas partner" to do the job right. Consistent QC can be a big advantage for American industry.

  3. Agree with john; plus, it's always good to give props to anything Chicago.

    Will look for it if I ever find myself back in Vegas (it's never been a destination of choice).

  4. More happy to see Illinois getting some cash back from Vegas than to be blinded by those garish billboards at night. Ladybird would not be happy.

  5. As always, you give us a glimpse of another world. Bravo to this humble town and its enterprising manufacturing company, its workers and executives. Good luck to all.


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