Ortts Electric celebrates 50 Years
Bill Ortts started his company as a part-time job. During the day, he installed telephones for Shentel; then, he’d do electrical work until the middle of the night.
Now, that company, Ortts Electric, is 50 years old and last Saturday a party was held at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds to celebrate the anniversary.
The fairgrounds is a familiar sight for Ortts, 79, who is on the Shenandoah County Fair Board.
Over 300 people attended last week’s event, celebrating Ortts and the company he founded, which now employs 20 people.
Although he began Ortts Electric out of his garage when he was in his 20s, Ortts was not always interested in electrical work. A young man who had grown up working at a farm in Saumsville, Ortts took a job at Shentel because the opportunity was there.
“It was a good job,” Ortts said. “It paid good money. It paid more than anything around here.”
But Ortts said his work installing telephones at people’s houses got him hooked with electric work.
“It piqued my interest. It did,” he said.
Eventually, Ortts started a part-time electric business.
“He was doing all sorts of hours, crazy,” his son, Charlie, said. “He’d do Shentel during the day, work up midnight or after at night, come to work the next day.”
That plan only worked for so long, though. One day, his boss, Warren French, suggested he might promote Ortts. But, Ortts said, he had a question: “What’s your longevity here?”
Two or three weeks later, Ortts told French he would leave the company to do electrical work.
“[French] just looked at me, shook my hand and said good decision,” Ortts said.
To this day, Ortts said, he and French continue to talk.
“He calls me about every week,” Ortts said. “Wants to know how I am.”
In the first years of Ortts Electric, Ortts was just an electric company. But by the early 1970s, about five years after the company was founded, Ortts began working on air conditioning.
“He got into what they call the suitcase air conditioning things that you buy,” Charlie Ortts said. “They look like suitcases, you buy them and put them together. …You didn’t need no license or any of that. You just bought stuff and put it in.”
Around the mid-1970s, Charlie Ortts said, Bill Ortts hired someone who could do plumbing work. With that, Ortts Electric was doing all the things, more or less, it does today: plumbing, air conditioning and electric.
The company also began to expand. By the start of the recession in 2008, the two-person Ortts Electric had become a seven- or eight-person outfit.
Bill Ortts stopped working for Ortts Electric in 2002, when he shifted leadership duties to his son Charlie. For months, the father and son pair sat down together and talked about setting the prices for their jobs. Then, Bill Ortts left the company.
“[Bill Ortts] bought a truck in ’02, said, ‘I think this is my retirement truck, it’s time to go,'” Charlie Ortts said. “And [he] got the truck and drove away. An ’02 Chevrolet truck, it’s got 27,000 miles on it.”
Since acquiring the company, Charlie Ortts has seen Ortts Electric rise and fall. In 2008, as the recession hit, Charlie Ortts said he had only four people working for him, a drop from between six and eight previously.
Since the recession ended, though, Charlie Ortts said the company has expanded. It now employs 20 people, according to the company’s website.
This year, Charlie Ortts said the company plans on working on four new houses.
“Four houses in a year is going to be awesome for me, because we haven’t done that in years,” Charlie Ortts said. “I think I’ve only done one since the recession came back up.”
Now that Ortts Electric is celebrating its 50th anniversary, its owners are planning for its next shift. Kyle Ortts, the 21-year-old grandson of the company’s founder, is taking classes as he prepares to one day run the company his grandfather started.
<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or <a href=’mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org’>email@example.com</a></p>