Business

Acme Brick to receive Fort Worth Chamber’s top business award

Acme Brick president and CEO Dennis Knautz at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth. Acme Brick is receiving the Spirit of Enterprise Award at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting June 14.
Acme Brick president and CEO Dennis Knautz at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth. Acme Brick is receiving the Spirit of Enterprise Award at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting June 14. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Managers at Acme Brick facilities in 14 states, including its Fort Worth headquarters, are given latitude regarding how employees can use their time and talents in the community — with one condition.

“We try to do everything we possibly can,” said Dennis Knautz, Acme’s president and chief executive officer. “We encourage them all to give back.”

Acme Brick has more than 60 locations and operates 17 brick-making plants. Eight others are shuttered but will be reopened as the economy improves, Knautz said. In early July, Knautz will light the kiln at a plant near Little Rock that is expected to bring as many as 30 jobs back to that community.

The company has more than 2,000 employees.

Being so spread out, Knautz said, it’s hard have companywide community initiatives. It’s left up to each manager to set priorities even in Fort Worth.

In Fort Worth, for example, after an employee learned she had breast cancer, a group became active with the Susan G. Komen breast cancer research organization. Similar efforts occurred because employees were affected by Alzheimer’s disease and neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer.

Acme Brick, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in April, is being recognized Tuesday with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Spirit of Enterprise Award, the chamber’s highest honor. The award will be presented during the chamber’s 134th annual meeting at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

The Spirit of Enterprise award honors businesses that demonstrate a commitment to local business growth and community development, and contribute to the advancement and prosperity of the city, according to the chamber.

Knautz, who has been at Acme’s helm since 2005, said he is honored for the company to be among the long list of recipients since the award began in 1975. Justin Industries received the award in 1978 when Acme Brick was a part of that company.

We’re proud to be a part of this community.

Dennis Knautz, Acme Brick president and CEO

“It’s humbling,” Knautz said. “We’re proud to be a part of this community.”

Bill Thornton, the chamber’s president and CEO, said Acme Brick is one of Fort Worth’s “most trusted businesses” and a key in the city’s success.

“They will always hold a special place in Fort Worth’s history as the first anchor tenant of and a major drawing card for the Clearfork development that has finally tapped southwest Fort Worth’s full economic potential,” Thornton said in a statement.

For a moment in 2005, though, Acme considered whether its place would be in Fort Worth. Wanting to move from six buildings on 1.25 acres along West Seventh Street that formed its headquarters, Acme officials wanted to bring all employees under one roof. Today, the company has 142 employees at its headquarters.

Acme flirted with the idea of moving from the city but settled on a 5.5-acre tract off Bryant Irvin Road and Vickery Boulevard on the Edwards Ranch property, which today is being developed into Clearfork, a residential and commercial development. The company moved to the site near the Trinity River in 2007.

Knautz credits Thornton with helping the company find a permanent spot in Fort Worth.

“When he brought me to this location, I said, ‘Bill, I think we’re done,’ ” Knautz said.

In 2006, the City Council approved an incentive that returns sales tax revenues to Acme over 32 years. The West Seventh Street property was sold to developers who took a semi-industrial stretch and turned it into a trendy and bustling residential and commercial hot spot.

They will always hold a special place in Fort Worth’s history as the first anchor tenant of and a major drawing card for the Clearfork development that has finally tapped southwest Fort Worth’s full economic potential.

Bill Thornton, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce president and CEO

Acme Brick started in 1891 near Millsap in Parker County and moved to Fort Worth in 1911. Much of Fort Worth was built using the company’s bricks, including the Swift and Armour meatpacking plants in the Stockyards. All of the brick at TCU is Acme’s, as are the bricks used to build Main Street downtown and Camp Bowie Boulevard, as well as the Fort Worth Convention Center, the company said.

“We feel our brick products have helped shape Fort Worth’s unique character and charm that sets it apart,” said Knautz, a TCU alum. “I’m proud driving around here.”

In 1968, the company merged with Justin Industries. In 2000, legendary investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought the company, which has grown into one of the largest brick companies in the U.S.

Before the housing collapse a decade ago, Acme annually produced more than 1 billion bricks. This year, the company said, it will make more than 900 million bricks.

One of its largest plants is in Denton. It still operates its original plant near Millsap, as well as in Bridgeport, Malakoff, Elgin, Garrison and McQueeney.

Brick by brick

1891: Chartered as Acme Pressed Brick Co.

1911: Moves headquarters to 824 Monroe St.

1919: Acme moves headquarters to Neil P. Anderson Building.

1952: Acme moves to 2821 W. Seventh St.

1968: Changes its name to First Worth Corp., merges with Justin Boot Co.

1972: First Worth becomes Justin Industries Inc.

1993: Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman becomes Acme spokesman.

2000: Berkshire Hathaway buys Justin Industries

2010: Acme begins to restart plants shuttered in the U.S. housing collapse

2016: Receives Chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award

Source: Star-Telegram archives, Acme website

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