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As Atomic Design grows, it seeks local talent

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Leading Atomic Design Inc. are Daniel McPhillips, president, left; his father, Tom McPhillips, founder and chief creative officer, right; and Soren West, CEO, below. The Lititz-based company provides design, production services, set construction, lighting and rentals for the entertainment industry. Behind the McPhillipses is one of Atomic’s locally made backgrounds.
Leading Atomic Design Inc. are Daniel McPhillips, president, left; his father, Tom McPhillips, founder and chief creative officer, right; and Soren West, CEO, below. The Lititz-based company provides design, production services, set construction, lighting and rentals for the entertainment industry. Behind the McPhillipses is one of Atomic’s locally made backgrounds. - (Photo / )
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Despite making a name for itself over the past two decades with TV giants such as Turner Broadcasting and NBC, manufacturers such as Nike and Honda, and pop/rock bands such as Bon Jovi and One Direction, Atomic Design Inc. is “still sort of a secret around here,” said company President Daniel McPhillips.

On one hand, he explained, the Lititz-based stage equipment designer and supplier has “more work than it knows what to do with.” On the other hand, it's always on the lookout for more local talent — rather than just people from out of state — to have a career there.

“We didn't intend to be a secret in the area, but that's kind of how it turned out,” McPhillips said.

The mystery is hard to believe considering the renown the Lancaster County borough has earned in the entertainment industry. After all, just a stone's throw away from Atomic's headquarters on Wynfield Drive are Clair Brothers, Tait Towers and Rock Lititz, all of which have gained significant street cred as some of the finest stage, sound and lighting companies in the industry.

“We're all growing like crazy and can't seem to hire fast enough, which is a great position to be in,” McPhillips said. The company won't disclose its annual revenue. But its workforce has tripled since 2007, and Atomic now employs more than 90 workers in its scenic, design, production and rental units.

It's going to need more.

“Recruiting really is a full-time job for us, partly because we're very picky about the people we bring into the company,” he says. And while the company keeps up recruiting relationships with schools such as Penn State, Yale, Towson and Montclair State universities, McPhillips also wants to collaborate with nearby Millersville University and even some local high schools to develop future talent for Atomic.

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“We're trying to get the message out,” he says. “We have everyone from accountants to welders to project managers to draftsmen to marketing mangers to human resources. So whatever your field is, there's probably a place in our industry for you.”

Expanding workload

Tour Atomic's 45,000- and 55,000-square-foot facilities in Lititz and you'll see what McPhillips means — not just about the company's job diversity but about its burgeoning workload as well.

On the shop floor is a large section of NBC's “America's Got Talent” set, which Atomic is refurbishing before sending back to Radio City Music Hall. Nearby is part of the set for “Joking Off,” a comedy game show on MTV2.

One of the people working in the shop is carpenter Jared Forsythe, who's been with Atomic for almost two years. He spends about two-thirds of his time on the road, traveling to places such as Las Vegas, Seattle and New Orleans, loading sets into venues and supervising their construction with local crews.

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He said he'll soon head to New York to deliver the “Joking Off” set to the MTV studios, and then, after a stint back in Lititz, he'll head to the Big Apple again to deliver the “America's Got Talent” set.

“It's a lot of travel and a lot of work, but I really like the challenge,” Forsythe said. He added that, after 15 years in the carpentry business, “This is the best company I've worked with by far. They treat us really well, and they make it a lot of fun.”

National exposure

At the company's rental division on the other side of Lititz, you'll find a variety of modular backdrop pieces designed and built by Atomic that frequently show up on popular programs such as “Ellen,” “The View” and “The Voice.”

McPhillips insisted that he doesn't want to brag, but when he was flipping through the TV channels not long ago, he caught one of Atomic's sets on “Ellen,” then turned to another station and immediately saw another of Atomic's sets in a Honda commercial.

“It's kind of cool to get that kind of exposure,” he said.

The division does about 2,000 jobs each year, according to Rob Barber, vice president of the unit. Its client base “varies significantly,” from the NBA draft to a company's new product launch to a dental association conference, he said.

The reason Atomic's modular set pieces — most of which measure about 2 feet by 2 feet and easily snap in place — are so popular with clients is that “they're simple to put together, they're very affordable, they look great and they're reusable,” Barber said.

A former director of information technology for Wenger Feeds, Barber said he “absolutely loves” working for Atomic: “It's exciting and stressful, but I'm really fortunate to be able to work all over the country and lead a division that's growing.”

With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, and lease deals in Singapore, Australia and Canada, Atomic will soon open franchises in Tokyo and Germany, as well, McPhillips said.

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Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline covers York County, nonprofits, workforce and education. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at larryp@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @CPBJLarryP. Circle Larry Portzline on .

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