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Behind the Scenes

The sound of grinding metal and the hiss of welding torches are signs of another typical day at LA ProPoint Inc. The fabrication area takes up most of the space at the company’s Sun Valley site where designs and concepts for stage and lighting systems and large art pieces come to life. The halo of acoustical trusses suspended above the performance area at the Hollywood Bowl originated at LA ProPoint. So did the stage components used in the renovation of the Balboa Theatre in San Diego and the systems at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. There are two sides to the company the theatrical work and the unusual work, said Vice President Jim Hartman, the industry veteran handling business affairs. The unusual work includes complex equipment installations at military hospitals and theme parks around the world as well as art pieces in public parks. With Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures Corp. preparing to spend money on parks in the Asian markets overseas and The Walt Disney Co. moving ahead with a massive re-working of California Adventure in Anaheim, the leadership at LA ProPoint anticipates getting its share. “We are actively pursuing a lot of that work,” said company founder and President Mark Riddlesperger. “People from our past lives are involved in varying degrees.” Industry connections have played a vital role at LA ProPoint since its founding in 2002; connections that brought the company credibility and respectability and in turn translated into more business. The responsibility that LA ProPoint shoulders makes them a prime dealer for J.R. Clancy, a manufacturer of stage equipment based in Syracuse, New York. There are a lot of dealers Clancy works with on a regular basis but LA ProPoint has the advantage of a certified welding shop and the structural background to do larger jobs, said its executive vice president Mike Murphy. “When you are doing work on the West Coast and you’re an East Coast manufacturer it is nice to have a partner like that and make the project successful,” Murphy said. Word of Mouth Riddlesperger worked for seven years at Universal Studios in Florida when he left to open the California office of another company in the stage equipment industry. When the owner of that firm bailed out, Riddlesperger bought the equipment, took over the lease of the building and kept the staff. With six contracts already let, there was work to be done. One project, on the backlot at Warner Bros. Studios, provided much-needed capital while Riddlesperger re-established contact with industry folk from his Universal days. Still, much of the work received by LA ProPoint, then located in Vernon, was by word of mouth. Then came the projects that helped put the company on the map. The first was at the Disney Concert Hall where the company designed, built and installed the rigging and controls for the house audio system in the main hall. In the smaller REDCAT Theatre, it installed traditional and motorized rigging. The other was at the Hollywood Bowl where the halo-shaped acoustic truss was installed as part of the venue’s renovation prior to the 2004 season. LA ProPoint provides ongoing maintenance for the sound system through a multi-year contract. At about this same time, the company became familiar with Clancy, which began to send work the company’s way. One such project was the Balboa Theatre renovation. The company was hired to improve the lighting and acoustical systems. This required crew members to work in cramped and irregular spaces while installing four manually-operated hoists that raise and lower antique chandeliers and winches are capable of lifting 500-pound drapery panels. Riddlesperger’s good rapport with the unions representing ironworkers and stagehands impressed Clancy. “For that renovation we had to use ironworkers and stagehands and through his relations he was able to make that work successfully,” Murphy said. Two Changes Riddlesperger made two major changes in the company as the workload increased. One was to move the company from Vernon to an industrial area in Sun Valley to be closer to suppliers and its client base. The other was hiring Hartman as vice president As more projects came the company’s way, Riddlesperger said the act of juggling the business side and the creative side became too much. He considered shutting the company down. The two men knew each other from Riddlesperger’s Universal days. Hartman was working for a sub-contractor when he was recruited to join LA ProPoint. Hartman oversees the budgets, accounting, human resources, marketing and insurance all of the less glamorous but necessary day-to-day operations issues that support the growth of the company. That freed Riddlesperger to manage the engineering and design of the multiple projects moving through the fabrication area of the building. “Our paths cross only when we allow them to,” Hartman said. As for the move to the Valley, that opened doors to a larger talent pool of welders, mechanics and carpenters. The area’s aerospace legacy spawned people with those skills, as well as engineers. Cal Arts in Valencia contributes engineers with design backgrounds. “You need forward-thinking engineers and fabricators,” Riddlesperger said. Other changes at the company included hiring a lead salesman, and in the past year a six-person design team was assembled Space and time dictate how many projects the company takes on at any one time. Also factored in is the nature of the project. For instance, during a renovation LA ProPoint may be the last sub-contractor on the job. “You don’t need to be hanging drapes and drapery systems when there is a lot of dust still around,” Hartman said. Performing arts venues are one area where Riddlesperger has seen an upswing in activity with either older facilities being upgraded or new buildings being constructed. At the Alex Theatre in Glendale, LA ProPoint installed winches for a speaker system in the auditorium and a motorized winch to raise and lower scenery, said Jack Allaway, director of theatre operations. “I think their work is well done and they have very knowledgeable people,” Allaway said. L.A. ProPoint Inc. Year Founded: 2002 Revenues in 2006: $2.8 Million Revenues in 2007: $4.5 Million Employees in 2006: 24 Employees in 2006: 36

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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