by Joan Tupponce
Ray Birk enjoys seeing the expression on visitors’ faces when he walks them through Super Radiator Coils’ 116,000-square-foot production facility in Chesterfield County.
“Our plant is larger than it looks,” he says, noting that most people aren’t aware of the facility behind the company’s small front office area. “We have about 100 people in the factory.”
Super Radiator Coils started in Minneapolis in 1927 manufacturing coils to replace hot-water radiators. The company, now a leading manufacturer of condenser, evaporator, steam and other coils, began operations in Chesterfield in 1980. The facility is the largest of SRC’s three plants. The others are in Chaska, Minn., and Phoenix.
Since Birk became the plant’s vice president of operations in 1982, the Chesterfield facility has grown from 18 to 130 employees. “We’ve seen a lot of growth,” he says. “We doubled the original plant’s size in 1993 and then again in 2001.”
Super Radiator sells to more than 20 industries. Customers range from oil and gas refineries to food processors and textile factories. Customers include Hill-Phoenix, IBM and General Electric, which uses SRC’s coils in equipment it makes for electric power plants. “We design low-tech products for high-tech applications,” Birk says. “We do all the design and manufacturing here.”
He often refers to the Chesterfield facility as a “mini United Nations” because workers there represent 12 nationalities. “We have great diversification,” says Birk. “We’ve been very successful hiring people from this area.”
The company recently won the Business of the Year Award from the Chesterfield County Economic Development Department as well as the county’s Innovation Impact Award for its new test lab and wind tunnel. The lab and wind tunnel will be used to test tubes and fins (thin metal pieces) in conventional coils as well as designs for new applications such as fuel cells and coils for turbines in windmill generators.
“We want to be a leader in the industry,” says Birk. “In the past we haven’t been innovative in product development. Now that we are the seventh largest coil-only manufacturer in the U.S., we wanted to add research and development.”
SRC’s plant is located near Chesterfield’s Midlothian area. Birk laments the fact that he hasn’t had the chance to tour Midlothian’s historic coal mines. The Midlothian Coal Mines date back to the 1700s.
They are thought to be the oldest coal mines in the country, supplying coal for the cannon foundry at Westham during the Revolutionary War and for Tredegar Iron Works during the Civil War.
“I find them very interesting,” he says. “I want to learn more. I’d like to get there and hike.”
The area’s economy
SRC is located on Southlake Boulevard in one of Chesterfield’s large business parks. Within five miles of SRC’s Chesterfield location there are 3,300 acres of commercial and industrial development totaling 25 million square feet. Retail establishments represent 40 percent of the area’s economy. Other business sectors include office, service retail and industrial. Large employers within that five-mile radius include CJW Medical Center’s Johnston-Willis campus, Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center and John Tyler Community College’s Chesterfield campus.
Where to stay
The Midlothian area is dotted with several chain hotels. The Holiday Inn Select Koger South Conference Center is near Huguenot Public Park with picnic areas and playgrounds for children. The hotel’s amenities include an indoor pool and a health and fitness center. The Sheraton Park South sits in a park-like setting and includes a full-service business center, health club and indoor/outdoor pool.
Where to eat
Some of Birk’s favorite haunts in the area include Café Caturra, a boutique café featuring breakfast items, soups, salads, sandwiches, tortillas, paninis and a large selection of wines. Not far away, the restaurant Q serves pork, brisket and chicken barbeque along with Southern favorites such as hush puppies, macaroni and cheese and banana pudding. Another local favorite is Pescados with Latin-inspired variations on seafood.