A meticulous search

British company was ‘very thorough’ in choosing a Virginia site

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Philip Kirkham had been CEO of Hardide Coatings for only a few months when a decision was made to create a facility in North America.

The search for a suitable site eventually led the company to Henry County.

The company, part of Hardide plc based in Bicester, England, is an advanced surface engineering business. Its patented technology and process create an extremely hard-wearing tungsten carbide coating used by a variety of customers.

“The types of parts we coat are typically components used in directional oil drilling tools and fracking tools, internal parts of flow-control valves and pumps for severe service applications in the chemical and oil and paint industries,” Kirkham says. “More recently we have started coating components for aerospace and have just been approved by Airbus.”

In 2013, North American customers represented about 20 percent of the company’s sales, and that figure has increased in recent years. Many customers on this side of the Atlantic wanted to do more business with Hardide but thought the company needed a North American coating facility. Meanwhile potential customers said they “would only deal with us if we were a local U.S. supplier as they didn’t want to get involved in export/import paperwork,” Kirkham says.

Kirkham, a former  executive vice president with Rolls-Royce, was heavily involved in that company’s decision to open a jet components  plant in Prince George County in 2010. “I knew from the analysis we did at that time that Virginia was a good place to do business, so I had a natural leaning toward Virginia,” he says.

Talks with Virginia representatives began in early 2013. Kirkham visited the Martinsville area as part of his tour with officials from the Virginia Economic Department Partnership. He met with Mark Heath, the president and CEO of Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., at the Paris Air Show in June 2013. “Over the next couple of years I visited him at his facility in the U.K. twice,” Heath says.

Heath was impressed by the company’s process in choosing a site. “They are very thorough in the way they go about things,” he says.
Kirkham investigated locations in a number of states, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina in addition to Virginia. The company’s list of requirements included an existing building that would allow expansion, a stable local workforce, access to educational resources for employee training, a good road transportation system, proximity to airports, and a sufficient and stable supply of electricity.

Martinsville-Henry County met most of the company’s criteria. “Mark and his team made us feel very welcome there,” Kirkham says. “Nothing was too much trouble and they were (and still are) helping in every aspect of us relocating and starting up in business.”

The company leased a 20,000-square-foot building in Henry County after Kirkham met with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, at the Farnborough International Airshow near London in July 2014. “That’s where we sorted out the finishing touches to the deal,” Kirkham says.

Hardide Coatings invested $7.25 million in the Henry facility and plans to create 29 jobs with an average salary of $50,000 during the next three years. Economic incentives offered to the company included a $150,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and $170,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity funds.

Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development and Henry County contributed $450,000 to offset the company’s moving costs and building renovations. “We felt so good about it being one of our targeted industries,” Heath says. The company is also eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program.

Hardide hired its first two senior employees at the facility last spring. They spent four months training in Britain.

“We are currently in the process of recruiting another four production operatives,” Kirkham says. “The plan is to grow the business by attracting new customers and also to transfer some of the U.S. customers’ work currently done in the U.K. over to Martinsville.”

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