Cover Story

The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Charlie McClung, MarTek Limited

By:Capacity Magazine

Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles

Business Partner Russ Safreed removes a prototype component -- made of PLA Filament, a renewable bioplastic that’s derived from corn -- for his company’s new electrical switching system from the build platform of a MakerBot 3D Printer at MarTek’s production facility in Big Chimney, W.Va.

Childhood dreams can – and do – come true. Just ask Frame, W.Va. native Charlie McClung.

Fulfilling a dream he says he first had when he was about 10 years old, Charlie has turned the idea of starting his own business into reality. His Big Chimney-based company, MarTek Limited, manufactures life-saving industrial products that Fortune 500 companies, as well as small businesses, have come to rely on. In 2004 after a 35-year career as an electrician, Charlie (also known by some as Mark) chose early retirement to devote full attention to his business that develops, manufactures and distributes soughtafter electrical safety products.

He says he recalls at a young age being exposed to entrepreneurs, particularly one enterprising church member who put the notion of developing and managing a business in his mind. Decades later in South Charleston, working as an electrician/engineer by day at a major company, he developed a now patented apparatus used to remotely operate large circuit breakers. Since then, he has put his industrial mindset in practice and worked with his business partner and life-long friend Russ Safreed to shape and grow a still-expanding enterprise that employs seven individuals full time.

“From the initial blue-sky dream,” Charlie says, “to designing and making a reliable product that people need and want, then holding the finished product in your hands is quite rewarding.”

The company, founded in 2004, designs and manufactures a patented line of electrical safety equipment used across the United States, Canada and beyond. The products, sold under a trademarked name of “Chicken Switch” and “RakTek,” are portable, remote-controlled devices that protect individuals from hazardous electrical arc flashes during high-voltage, circuit-breaker switching activities.

In just a few years of hard work, the two entrepreneurs developed, designed, produced, refined and marketed their initial product line – and have expanded it to include nearly two dozen models – thanks in large part to technical assistance from the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI).

“A big challenge,” Charlie said, “is learning to use the tools and resources such as RCBI that are available to you. Branching beyond my comfort zone, I’ve also learned sophisticated software packages in accounting and CAD (computer-aided-design) to theCAM (computer-aided-manufacturing) software that runs the complex, high-tech machines used to manufacture our products.”

However, he acknowledges, “Another challenge is throttling myself to balance between work and personal life so I’m not consumed entirely by my work – regardless how rewarding it is to me.”

Their products’ increasing demand required them to move their start-up operations from his garage into a larger facility in Big Chimney. In little more than a decade, Charlie has turned his first entrepreneurial venture – started in his two-car garage in Pinch – into quite a success story.

The company’s success, starting with three basic products that has grown to fill a 6,000-square-foot operation and includes nearly two dozen models of its patented safety switches that range from control switch operators and breaker operators to racking devices. While their focus remains on meeting needs here in North America, this hasn’t stopped their product from gaining traction and use by industry worldwide. And their business isn’t slowing. Charlie proudly points to a new, computer-controlled, Haas vertical mill he just installed as well as 3D Printers they’re using for prototypes and limited-run productions. He says MarTek is primed to diversify further by entering and serving even more markets.