Century Fence a mark of permanence in Wisconsin
Celebrated 100-year milestone last month

By Hannah Weikel - Freeman Staff

July 18, 2017

 John Connell, Century Fence’s current president.
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Bryant

PEWAUKEE - After 100 years in business, the Bryants, owners of Century Fence, say they still get a rush from seeing signs of their company’s work along highways and on fences around landmarks like Lambeau Field in Green Bay and Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

The family takes immense pride in the legacy that their ancestors started in Waukesha County in 1917, which has grown over a century from scrap metal to a leader in fencing and pavement marking. It’s easy to find towns and cities in Wisconsin where Century Fence has made its mark.

“I remember a night when I turned on the news and I saw our sign. There it was, in the background of another story,” said Sabrina Bryant. “It’s still a thrill to see [the signs.] We think ‘wow, this really says something to the community; we are here.’”

 Century Fence’s third location was on Lincoln Avenue from 1923 to 1968.

 Henry Bryant, Century Fence’s founder and first president.
Photos and art courtesy of Sabrina Bryant

The company, owned by Andrea and Tony Bryant, son of founder Henry Bryant, and run by President John Connell, has completed projects across the U.S. and rakes in $50 million yearly in sales. They have expanded to manufacturing and fabrication plants in Green Bay, Pewaukee, Forest Lake, Minn. and a new location in Knapp. They celebrated the company's 100 year anniversary last month with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a presentation of its history punctuated by The Wisconsin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Best known for fencing, Century Fence added pavement marking to their wheelhouse in 1969 after submitting the sole bid to the Wisconsin Highway Department to mark over two thousand miles of state highways in the state.

“We realized we didn’t have any equipment to do the project. We found some in the state of Missouri and brought it back and practiced marking in the backyard,” said Tony Bryant.

 Century Fence’s current headquarters in Pewaukee.

 The Bryant family during Century Fence’s 100th anniversary party on June 24.
Photos courtesy of Sabrina Bryant

Now, the company makes all their own trucks to meet their specifications. That way, if something breaks there will be someone close at hand who knows how to make repairs, and they don’t have to lose time and money by sending it away to be fixed.

The company’s road-striping division took off at a sprint and continues to be at the forefront with pavement marking technology, according to Vice President of Operations Tim McChesney. Century Fence is even part of the high-profile Interstate 94 Zoo Interchange project, putting down wet reflective lines throughout the construction site, according to their website.

Creating security

Operators of Century Fence are always looking for ways to expand the breadth of their service area - stretching through 40 states with a 12-state core of ongoing work in the Midwest - and react to a changing market, John Connell said. 

Possibly the biggest change in recent memory for Century Fence was after 9/11 - as business and service buildings started to require increased security - when the company stepped up and started thinking of new and innovative ways to make durable and secure fences to go around airports, water treatment facilities, electric plants and even hydraulic fracturing sites in North Dakota.

Connell said the company is always on the cutting edge of materials and new fencing designs. As a leader in the field, they often get calls from new clients who want to change to Century Fence or from past customers, like several prisons in Wisconsin, who want to redo fences based on new materials and designs.

“Every year we get together and reflect on the year and talk about the future,” Connell said.

 A prison fence constructed by Century Fence during the 1980s.
Photo courtesy of Sabrina Bryant

When the local business economy is good, fencing is successful, and when there is pressure on state government to repair roads, the pavement marking business takes off, Connell said.

Wisconsin lawmakers are at a standstill over the next state budget because there are disagreements over how much should be borrowed and how revenue should be created for infrastructure and road repair.

Connell said he spoke to Kleefisch when she was at their headquarters last month for the anniversary event, and asked her what she would do. He said she stuck with Gov. Walker's stance that gas taxes should not increase, but he disagrees.

“Investment in infrastructure is essential to a healthy economy,” Connell said. “Gas tax wouldn't be a hurt point for most.”

Email: hweikel@conleynet.com