State programs help HDT Global tap international markets


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Defense and security entities around the world know the name HDT Global. The Ohio-based firm is a leader in the design and manufacture of products used by the military, governments and corporations. “If you have security or military forces, you need our products,” says company Vice President Brian Dearing. 

HDT provides everything from the HDT Storm, an ultra lightweight, air-deployable tactical vehicle to advanced prosthetic arm technologies for returning soldiers.

The company has four primary facilities in Virginia — two in the Fredericksburg area and two near Lexington, in Fairfield and Buena Vista.

“We will be consolidating Fairfield into the Buena Vista site this year,” says Dearing, noting that Fairfield employees (most of whom are in engineering and research and development) will move to Buena Vista, which manufactures military shelter products.

The company was formed in 2005 when Virginia-based Base-X and Ohio-based Hunter Manufacturing joined forces. It is now an aggregation of 10 companies. It adopted its HDT Global moniker in 2007 when it decided to expand into the international marketplace.

“It was more of an aspiration than a reality,” Dearing says of the company’s global dealings at the time. “We grew into the name. Now we truly are a global company.”
He credits part of the company’s success in the world market to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s VALET program, which helps companies expand into global markets. The company applied to the program in 2006 after it made the decision to start its international business.

“We decided to do international business in an applied fashion and not just wait for an occasional phone call,” Dearing says. “VALET was a natural progression of that decision. The program gave us structure and guidance. We would not be nearly as far ahead as we are without them.”

About 250 of the company’s 1,500 employees work in Virginia. “We have employees that live all over the state,” Dearing says, noting that a handful commute from Alexandria to Fredericksburg. “They like that reverse commute,” he says. Dearing notes that HDT likes being in the Lexington and Fredericksburg areas. “We have really good schools that turn out qualified people. We have great resources in terms of employees.”

The company currently sells to Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and Chile as well as the U.S. One of the biggest proponents of homeland security is Japan, Dearing says. “The Japanese are more organized with regard to homeland security than the U.S. Japanese homeland security is run through the fire department, which is nationalized. It’s a federal asset.”

Dearing has learned a great deal about global selling over the last six years. “One of the early-on mistakes I made was that I wanted everybody to be a reseller. I didn’t want any agents or representatives,” he says. “It turned out that is not the right model for every market. You need a partner that is well connected and knows the system, particularly in the Middle East.”

Small- and medium-size companies need a partner in every country that “knows the lay of the land,” he adds, noting that companies that want to be global have to have a global mindset. “You have to look at the whole world as your market.”

When the company started its international dealings, Dearing traveled most of the time. “I have been to every continent except Antarctica,” he says. “When we started focusing on international, we were doing it on a shoestring. You had to do everything. Now we have a full international team, and I don’t travel as much.”

The company opened an office in Melbourne, Australia, a year-and-a-half ago after selling products to the Australian Department of Defense. Dearing enjoys working with Australians and appreciates the fact that the country has good relations with many other nations. “They are a wonderful people,” he says of Australians. “It’s an optimistic, forward looking culture. Melbourne is a great base of operations for the rest of Asia.”

There is no language barrier, and there is a transparency in business that’s similar to the U.S. “They have a great open and direct way of doing business,” he says. “When you have a very transparent market like we do in the U.S. where everybody has a fair chance, you have to be better. You have to have a really good product. That is what will carry you through in a transparent market. Your success is based on merit.”

The company wants to continue expanding, especially in the Middle East, and is working with VEDP’s new initiative “Going Global.” It focuses on helping Virginia defense-related businesses adversely affected by defense budget reductions increase export opportunities overseas. “This is a real credit to the way the state of Virginia looks at things,” Dearing says. “We are using it because we do have some significant international business. It will help us bolster that.” 

Economy in Melbourne, Australia

The capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne is the second largest city in terms of population in Australia. Industry sectors range from advanced manufacturing and clean technology to biotechnology and research and development. The Fishermans Bend in the city of Port Melbourne houses several large manufacturing firms, including automaker Holden and Boeing Aerostructures Australia, which supplies certain components for the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner. It is Boeing’s largest manufacturing plant outside of the U.S. Fishermans Bend also is home to several of the 27 biotechnology research institutes in the city. Biotech firms include CSL Limited, which produces plasma, vaccines and pharmaceuticals. GKN Aerospace and Aerostaff are two of several aerospace companies in the city. 

Economy in Rockbridge County

Rockbridge County has a diverse economy. Flooring manufacturer Mohawk, one of the county’s larger employers, represents the textile industry. Large employers also include Swedish-based Heatex America, which manufactures and sells heat exchangers, and Swedish-based Munters, a leader in humidity and climate control technologies. Other industry sectors represented are the plastics and tobacco industries and trucking, with economic generators White’s Travel Center and Lee Hi Travel Plaza, one of the oldest truck stops on the East Coast. Lexington’s two major employers are Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, which account for approximately 1,400 jobs. The city also is home to Devils  Backbone Outpost Brewery, which brews the company’s two flagship beers and is currently undergoing an expansion.

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