In 1967, Barry South and his brothers David and Randy came up with an idea for a business that changed the shape of potato cellars for some eastern Idaho growers — they wanted to construct domes.
The inspiration for the idea, however, might be an even bigger surprise.
“This guy made him a mountain cabin out of spraying polyurethane on a weather balloon,” South said. “The thought then came to us that we could build a much larger dome if the concrete was the strength of the dome instead of the polyurethane.”
Using the skills they gained spraying polyurethane on potato cellars in Shelley, the brothers came across a new method of spraying hardened plaster on domes. This helped increase the strength and stability of the structure.
What resulted from there became Dome Technology.
In its 51-year history, Dome Technology has built structures in 30 countries and every U.S. state. And most of the design, planning, and manufacturing for these projects happens in Idaho Falls.
Dome Technology’s Idaho Falls headquarters is located in a giant dome structure at 4946 N. 29th E. and accommodates around 70 employees.
There are several benefits to domes that make them unique and versatile, said Jason Miller, vice president of marketing for Dome Technology. Space, multiuse, durability and energy efficiency are among the benefits he touts to potential customers.
“There are so many great benefits about this type of structure,” Miller said. “It’s a little nontraditional, so people have to warm up to that a little bit. So I think as people learn about us and the benefits of this type of structure, it’s easier to convince them and make this a little more mainstream.”
Dome Technology remained focused on the construction of potato shelters for much of its early years, and it was a struggle at times, battling an up and down market.
“When we started, a lot of (industry) magazines were writing about us, and we thought people were going to beat a path to our door,” South said. “Turned out that wasn’t the case.”
After a few years, Dome Technology looked to shift its focus into more diverse uses for domes. And South found a new market that helped boost his company across the country.
“We had a guy in Missouri that said he was in the market for domes, that he thought it would make a fantastic fertilizer storage,” South said. “We sold him one, and made a little money on it.”
This inspired South to search for other potential storage uses for domes. What he found helped save the company after a rough few years.
“We were looking for markets that would really let us make some money, and let us make the domes,” he said. “One of the markets we really focused on and believed would be fantastic would be for storing bulk powdered cement. We really went after that market.”
South found a buyer in Indiana for a cement storage structure, and it helped build the company’s portfolio.
“Then the business was able to branch out,” South said.
Dome Technology recently found a new market along the Gulf Coast, building structures that could act as storm shelters in the event of a hurricane.
“We typically build these around schools, but occasionally municipalities,” Miller said. “The wind kind of naturally moves around the structure easier than a square or rectangular structure.”
Currently, Dome Technology has projects ongoing throughout the country, with one in eastern Idaho — a new $1.4 million fire department headquarters in Menan.
The fire department building is in its finishing phase and scheduled to open at the end of the month.
Menan Mayor Tad Haight has been impressed with Dome Technologies’ work.
“It’s a beautiful building,” he said. “The technology, the engineering of it, the ability to take some pretty solid abuse, all up to code. I think it’s going to be a great asset for Menan.”
One of the reasons Menan chose to invest in such a unique, yet expensive, building for the fire department is its longevity.
“It’s an investment that will last 100 years,” Haight said.
Dome Technology recently constructed another fire station for the space travel company Virgin Galactic near Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Barry South is the only remaining brother with Dome Technology, with David and Randy now operating similar businesses across the country. But the business still remains in the family, as South has gotten his sons Daniel and Rod South involved in the company’s operations.
But even with this international success of the company, one might wonder why South has remained in eastern Idaho, particularly when most of the company’s business is thousands of miles away?
Simply put — it’s home.
“I like Idaho, and the people who work here,” Short said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that, with the right markets, there’s no limit to the amount of growth we can have here with a company like this.”
Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.