The Great Recession has hit few places harder than Flint, Mich. A once booming manufacturing city in Michigan is now plagued by poverty, unemployment, and blight. Ken Hardin, owner of Ken Hardin Heating and Cooling, opened his business in 1965 and has endured Flint’s thriving growth and most recent dose of disinvestment, deindustrialization, and urban decay.

“Right now, this area is devastated,” said Hardin. “Flint has been nip and tuck all the way. While we are grateful for our regular customers and the reputation our name has established over the last four decades, things have been incredibly difficult here the last several years.”

Yet Hardin has found continued success through traditional cost-cutting measures and an innovative invention that is helping his customers during difficult economic times.

Innovation Through Invention

As the economy took a turn for the worse, so did Hardin’s business. Once raking in as much as $1 million annually, the company is lucky to earn $500,000 today.

“The economy has all but eliminated new construction in this area. We do a lot of replacements and some commercial work, but new construction is very competitive and few and far between in this area,” said Hardin. “Our numbers are down more than 50 percent. It’s a constant struggle.”

Hardin and his employees began repairing microwaves, stoves, ovens, water coolers, and other appliances in an effort to make a buck. He also began accumulating various parts and components for resale. “We’ll do whatever it takes to keep the business going,” said Hardin. “Unfortunately, over time, we were forced to lay people off and we’re down to six employees today.”

As several Flint-area manufacturing and automotive plants ceased operation, poverty and crime rose dramatically. Thieves looking for fast cash have recently turned to air conditioning units, targeting the copper coils and tubing inside.

In as little as 10 minutes, thieves may accumulate about 4 pounds of copper from a typical central air conditioning unit. The market value of copper is approximately $3.72 a pound, netting thieves about $15 for copper stolen from a residential unit, and as much as $500 from several larger commercial/rooftop units. Businesses are left with a dysfunctional cooling system and a lofty bill to replace the entire unit.

Copper crooks are even targeting area churches. The Flint Journal newspaper recently reported that at least 11 air conditioners were broken into at Genesee Township (a suburb of Flint) area churches within the last year. Estimated losses were calculated at $175,000 and, according to the report, Genesee Township police have apprehended no suspects in the incidents.

After hearing of the thefts, Hardin turned to the tool shed and crafted a potential solution: the TAKAN copper alarm.

Starting about four years ago, Hardin began tinkering with 12V relays and different circuit boards in hopes of creating an effective copper alarm. Over time, he perfected the TAKAN alarm, which includes a low pressure switch, clamp wire, and 110 vac transformer. The alarm is triggered when a copper line is tampered with or cut.

“The TAKAN copper alarm can be cemented to the copper lines of an air conditioner or through a pressure switch used for rooftop units,” said Hardin. “The TAKAN copper alarm can also prevent the loss of refrigerant systems and any other unit where copper is utilized.”

Hardin named the alarm after his son Tony, and four grandchildren, Alex, Kenny, Andreana, and Nicholas, and received a patent on the device in October 2011. The unit is selling for just under $200 and can be installed in new or existing units.

Hardin has installed more than 50 of the units in and around Flint — including three Flint-area churches — and is currently seeking a supply distributor in hopes of offering the product across the United States.

“As business was slow, we had to do something innovative,” said Hardin. “This copper alarm has helped us gain new customers, and it shows that we really care about our customers. We want to put an end to this type of crime. We don’t want our customers to worry about having to replace a brand-new unit due to this type of incident.”

No Slowing Down

At 70 years old, Hardin has no plans of slowing down and often still spends his days out in the field as a dedicated team member. He is hopeful that the TAKAN alarm can catapult his company to a whole new level.

“Retirement isn’t an option for me,” he said. “I plan on working until I can’t, which is hopefully several years away. As beneficial as the TAKAN unit has been locally, we have very high hopes of its success on a much larger stage.”

For more information on Ken Hardin Heating and Cooling, call 810-232-1780 or visit

Publication date: 05/07/2012