Canadian courtship

Martinsville-Henry County met company’s labor and time-schedule requirements

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Henry County's Tim Hall says the job skills Novatech was
seeking were “a good fit for our folks.” Photo by Steven Mantilla

The saying “it takes a village” describes the effort made by the Martinsville-Henry County area to recruit Novatech Group on a tight time schedule.

“They were looking for a place where they could get the support of the community and also get up and running quickly,” Mark Heath, the president and CEO of Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., says about the Canadian manufacturer.

Based in Quebec, Novatech was founded in 1982. The company makes custom door glass, steel doors, patio doors, doorframes, retractable screens and insulated doors. Before coming to Virginia, it had 12 locations in Canada and one in France (Novatech Europe), employing more than 700 workers.

In 2015, the accounting firm Deloitte named Novatech Group as one of “Canada’s Best Managed Companies.”

Last August, Heath learned from a local company, West Windows, that Novatech was looking for a U.S. location. “West has been in Martinsville for a long time. They were Novatech’s first U.S. customer,” says Heath.

The economic development official immediately called Jean Champagne, president of Novatech Patio Doors, a division of Novatech Group. “We had a really good conversation,” Heath says.

The Canadian company had begun looking for a U.S. site in July. Once it had made its choice, Novatech Group wanted to move fast in setting up production.

“We have about 30 customers in the U.S. and have been selling there for many years,” says Harold Savard, president and CEO of Novatech Group. “We know the market.”

The company examined sites in six states. “They were working with the consulting group Le Groupe CAI Global in Montreal, and they got in touch with us,” Heath says. “They came down for two or three visits.”

The selection process eventually was narrowed down to three localities — Roanoke, Martinsville-Henry County and Blacksburg, S.C. Then it came down to Martinsville-Henry County and Blacksburg.

It helped that Novatech knew West Windows, “That was one of the plants we toured with them,” Heath says. “West was gracious in helping us talk about the local labor force.”

Labor was one of Novatech’s chief concerns. “It came down to ‘Can we get the skilled labor force we need?’  We gave them all the information, but they did an independent verification and saw for themselves that they could get the labor they needed,” Heath says.

The job skills needed by the company were “a good fit for our folks,” says Henry County Administrator Tim Hall.

In December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Novatech’s plans to come to Virginia.

Novatech made that choice because “we got a lot of support from the people of Martinsville-Henry County,” Savard says. “The state was also very important. I have never seen that type of support in my life. They want to help us have success.”

The company invested $3 million to establish its manufacturing operation. It has leased a 100,000-square-foot facility to produce and distribute patio doors.

As part of the deal, Novatech received a $100,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund as well as $130,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds. It is also eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program. The company additionally will receive funding and services from the Virginia Jobs Investment Program to support employee-training activities. 

“They also got enterprise-zone benefits at the local level,” Heath says. “They will get approximately $104,000 over five years on taxes for machinery, tools and real property. In all, they got about a $650,000 package.”

Novatech plans to create 50 jobs at the plant during the next three years.

“Our goal is to grow,” Savard says. “If we double that number of employees, we will be very happy. We are a very dynamic company. Every year we make a lot of progress growing the business. We started with one plant in Canada, and now we have 12. If we do the same in the U.S., it will be a very big success.”

The company wanted to begin production by the second week of January, just a few weeks after McAuliffe’s announcement. Local contractor Jim Frith, who owns the building the company is leasing, worked to accommodate that schedule, Heath says. 

After its plans became public, the company quickly began moving equipment from Quebec to Virginia. “It all had to be dismantled and put back together,” Heath says. “They were working day and night to get things running. They had good support from local contractors that were helping with plumbing and electrical needs. That made it easier.”

Savard says he is thrilled with the Virginia location. “We are very proud to be in the U.S.,” he says. “It’s a dream for us.”

Novatech’s arrival plants a new flag in the Martinsville-Henry County area. Three British firms have a presence in the area in addition to one company each from Germany, Israel, Sweden and now Canada.

“People don’t think of Martinsville-Henry County as an international area,” Hall says. “But with our synergy, we hope to build on that and become a good destination for many international companies.”

Southern Virginia’s recent deals

Company Location #Jobs
Telvista Danville 150
Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation Nottoway County 149
Starsprings Henry County 68
Nationwide Custom Homes Martinsville 59
Novatech Group Henry County 50
Textron Inc. Nottoway County 50
Microsoft Corp. Mecklenburg County 44
Dominion Virginia Power Greensville County 44
Overfinch Danville area 41
Kyocera SGS Precision Tool Danville area 35

Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership, 2016.

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