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NYS Faces of Manufacturing: Bruce Quay, Aquatic Development Group

Waterpark

Aquatic Development Group (ADG) is one of the largest and most innovative waterpark and aquatic equipment design, construction, engineering, and manufacturing companies in the world.  As Chief Operating Officer of the Cohoes-based company, Bruce Quay sees as a primary part of his role as ensuring that everyone in the organization understands and has buy in to the ADG mission and sees how they can contribute to our success.

“It has always been my belief that if you can create an organization whose foundation is based on a strong sales team and high quality production (manufacturing  or construction) and surround them with  talented and dedicated support groups you are going to be a successful company,” he said.

Beyond the edge of the pool

ADG can trace its beginnings to the 1950s, when Herb Ellis took a summer job at company called Paddock Pools.  This evolved into a full-time career, and by the 1960s he was CEO of Paddock and would grow the company into one of the country’s largest commercial pool contractor specializing in equipment manufacturing and construction.

In the 1970s, Ellis formed ADG and shifted focus to the burgeoning waterpark industry, providing the full range of services from design to manufacture to installation, with a focus on innovation.

“We are not so much a products company as we are a solutions company,” Quay said. “One of our mottos is ‘Think beyond the edge of the pool,’ which is to say ‘sure, we can manufacture that wave system.  We can build that waterpark.  But first let’s talk about what you as an owner/operator are trying to accomplish.’ We ask more questions upfront than most suppliers do and then say ‘We can do that, but wouldn’t it be great if we could also do this….’”

While Herb Ellis was growing ADG, Quay was growing up in Colonie. He went to Hope College in Holland, Michigan, graduating with a degree in business and economics.  Holland was home to a General Electric appliance motor plant, and since Quay was very familiar with GE, he looked there for work.

“I called enough times where they finally said, ‘why don’t you come in and explain to us why you’ve left 27 voicemails on the HR manager’s desk!’” he recalled.

He was given a position in the plant’s Technical Marketing program, where it was “37 engineers and me,” he said.

His next step was Boston, where he ran a branch of the largest residential swimming pool component manufacturers in the country.  Within five years he had risen to vice president.

He returned to New York when Latham-based Pacific Industries, a competitor of his former employer, recruited him to help turn that business around.  He spent 11 years with the company ultimately as president and CEO of what would become Cookson Plastic Molding Inc., a $160 million company.

When Cookson was sold in 2002, Quay began his first stint at ADG. Herb Ellis had transitioned the business to his son, current CEO Ken Ellis, and asked Quay to help Ken evolve the business by focusing on the manufacturing side.

After a few years, Quay left ADG and pursued other interests—including operating his own business outside the pool industry—until 2008, when he returned to ADG in his current role.

Making waves

Today, ADG employs about 100 people, with seasonal fluctuations, and is going strong despite the pandemic which had a disproportionally negative impact on the hospitality and leisure industries.

“It is a very exciting time at ADG,” Quay said.  “We have had a lot of success and have great ambitions for both components of our business: equipment manufacturing and waterpark design/build.  The markets we serve have all had a challenging 18 months, but as always we learn and evolve during hard times. If fact ADG has recently come off some of the most exciting and innovative projects in our recent history.”

This included an indoor waterpark in the Catskills, which opened in 2019, a large outdoor waterpark in Tennessee—the only major waterpark to open in the U.S. during the pandemic—and the Cliffside Coaster in Lake Placid, the longest mountain coaster in North America at 1.4 miles.  The company—which made its entry into waterparks with innovative wave pool technology—now is in the process of building its first combination boogie boarding and surf training wave system for a park in Australia.

“All of that accomplished in challenging times,” Quay said,  “I think it is a testament to our people and our perseverance. At a time when some owners or developers were being told they couldn’t get their projects done on time or on budget…or at all.  In all those cases we were able to do both. That is who we are.”

In late June, ADG unveiled its newest product, EpicSurf, a 5’ deep surf wave meant to simulate real surfing on a body of water that fits into a ride the size of a tennis court. The first of its kind to be designed and manufactured by a company in the US.

Pieces in Place

Quay did not have a hands-on role in the design or engineering of EpicSurf, the waterparks or mountain coaster, but he was instrumental in helping to keep ADG on track and “making sure that all the people, resources and objectives are in place for us to continue on our mission.”

Where does he see ADG in five years?

“On the equipment side of our business, I see us playing a bigger role both domestically and internationally in the wave system business as we broaden our product line to include EpicSurf and other surf-related products,” he said.  “Our mountainside business will grow.  And we will always be a go-to company for design/build projects in the waterpark and resort markets.”

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