As a teenager, Keith Binney was a wild child with too much time on his hands. At 15, the St. Petersburg native's mother sent him packing to live with his father, a Las Vegas choreographer who worked with stars such as Robert Goulet. "I wasn't the greatest kid," he said.
Drag racing provided an outlet for all that youthful energy. While racing, "I ran into some guys in New Jersey and took a job polishing stainless (steel) in 1978." From there he learned welding.
"I worked for other people and held two and three jobs," said the former Denny's fry cook and high school "shop nut." "I decided if I could make someone else rich I could sure as heck make myself rich. So I rented a garage and decided to be my own man."
Binney started in a 20- by 20-foot garage in Largo. A quarter of a century later, work done by Binney's company, Stainless Fabricators, can be seen at some of the world's busiest airports, colleges, museums and theme parks. Lured by lower property taxes, the company moved to Odessa about 10 years ago. Last year it moved to a larger space in the West Pasco Industrial Park on State Road 54.
"Taxes were about 1 percent less; that made a huge difference when you're pushing into the millions for property."
The firm started out doing only boat railings but diversified to stair railings and other decorative stainless work. Binney said he branched out because he wanted the company to thrive.
"I was always told, 'Look who's driving the car you want to drive, and do what they're doing,' " he said.
His company has done projects at the American Embassy in Panama, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and a host of airports in Texas. Closer to home, Stainless Fabricators has done railings on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport, the Tampa Bay History Center and is currently working on the seven story science building set to open this summer at the University of South Florida.
The company is celebrating its 25 anniversary today with an open house that includes demonstrations, food and door prizes.
Binney's business is the type that economic development officials love. It brings in new money from clients outside the area, rather than just shuffling around what's already in the county's economic pipeline.
"Virtually all the company's production is sold to customers in other places, so every new sale adds dollars to our local economy — and new jobs," said John Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Council.
Binney, who lives in Dunedin, started out by showing up at job sites and offering to do steel work. From there, his reputation grew.
For a few years, the company limited itself to boat work and opened a plant in Tennessee. But that market evaporated during the recession of the early 1990s. Binney closed that plant and focused on Florida.
"If we had stayed in the marine business, we'd be gone," he said.
But the company is one of only a few that do detailed speciality work, so it has survived.
Work is done locally, with a crew that fluctuates from 30 to 40 employees. Binney, 53, still does some of it himself.
The building on Challenger Avenue will allow the company to double its output and expand another 10,000 square feet. Last year a misunderstanding over an impact fee loan for a new building caused some friction with the County Commission, but commissioners awarded the company the $30,000 it would have qualified for under revamped rules. The compromise wasn't what Stainless Fabricators wanted but "we worked it out," Binney said.
He's not looking to retire any time soon.
"There are a couple of big companies we do work for," he said. "I'm hoping to become a player with them. That would benefit us highly."
Twenty-five years after his humble beginning, Binney now can afford whatever car he wants. But he still drives a Chevy pickup and lives in the same house he always has.
"I take better care of the truck than I do myself," he said.