Written by Robert Leitch.
When William Wilson created Apex Sports in Zanesville, Ohio, he restarted the American softball manufacturing machine. Forty years ago all softballs were built in the United States, but the cheap cost of manufacturing overseas in the late 1970s led to a mass exodus of companies who started building their balls abroad. The end result was decreased quality control and softballs that didn’t perform as well in varying weather climates.
Apex Sports is currently the only manufacturer of softballs in the United States. Each ball contains a patented chemical core that is resistant to heat and stays harder for longer. The balls also have seams stitched in a way that makes them fly farther and spin longer when they are hit. The technology is unique to Apex Sports and cannot be found in any other softball.
“All of our balls are handmade,” said Wilson. “We make the cores, put the covers on the balls and stitch them up. No one else in the United States does this, so I had to design the manufacturing process myself. The result is a more resilient softball.”
Every ball sold by Apex Sports is manufactured at its factory in the Muskingum County Business Incubator in Zanesville, a southeast regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. While Wilson says the process of creating a manufacturing business in the United States has its challenges, there is not a major cost difference in making the balls here compared to overseas.
“Doing business someplace like China has gotten more expensive in the last couple of years,” said Wilson. “Meanwhile the costs to manufacture in America have gone down. Building our balls here in Ohio allows us to ensure that we are creating the best possible products.”
Being housed in an incubator is extremely beneficial for Wilson, who had never started a company before Apex Sports. The team at the Muskingum County Business Incubator helped him build his business from the ground up, providing him important connections in the accounting and legal fields, plus affordable rent.
“The whole back half of the incubator, totaling about 9,000 square feet, is dedicated to my manufacturing facilities,” said Wilson. “I get all of that space at a reduced rent, which is a huge help for a company that is trying to get off the ground.”
TechGROWTH Ohio, another southeast regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, awarded Wilson a grant that paid for Apex Sports’ patent and LLC applications, as well as its lab testing.
“The help I’ve received from TechGROWTH and the Muskingum County Business Incubator has enabled me to take my idea and turn it into a reality,” said Wilson.
Spring 2016 will see the release of Apex Sports’ first official Amateur Softball Association (ASA) licensed softball. This will allow the company’s balls to be used during any sanctioned ASA tournament, a market worth several million dollars per year.
“Having an official ASA ball will put us on the map on a national level,” said Wilson. “We have 13 employees right now, and thanks to this designation, we’ll be able to take those numbers up to 40 by June 2016.”
Wilson has lived in southeast Ohio his entire life, and has played softball for the past 30 years all over the world. He says there is no better place for his company than right here in Ohio.
“I don’t know what other state would offer me more than Ohio because it’s right in the heart of softball country,” said Wilson. “There is no reason I’d ever want to leave.”