The land down under

Ceramic Technology tries to grow business in coal-rich Australia

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

A self-proclaimed road warrior, Lee Osborne updates his GPS and sets up a short-term international contract with his cell phone carrier whenever he travels to Australia. “Being prepared is a plus,” says the owner of Tazewell-based Ceramic Technology. “Customers ap­­preciate you operating in a manner that doesn’t cause a lot of distraction.”

The contract-manufacturing firm designs and fabricates custom steel equipment for the coal industry with a specialty in ceramic linings. In 2010, the company secured patents in the United States, Canada and Australia for its Sam-1 Static Prescreen technology, which helps lower operational costs for coal and mineral processing.

Ceramic Technology be­­gan selling to Canada in 2008 because of the similarities between the U.S. and Canada’s coal industry. “The coal people there are very professional,” Osborne says. “They are very fair, production-driven people.”
This year, international sales (mostly to Canada) represent 20 percent of the company’s total revenue. “That number is growing,” Osborne says.

Osborne says Australia is a good fit for his company’s products. In 2009, Australia’s coal reserves represented 7 percent of global reserves and iron ore represented 17 percent of global reserves. “Australia is one of the largest mineral countries in the world with a small population,” he says. “You will see large mining operations near the city limits or in coastal areas. It’s strange to go to a coal mine and in 30 minutes be looking at the ocean.”

Osborne recognizes that business relationships take work and “establishing them around the world is tough. But you have to put the effort in,” he says.

He has participated in two trade missions to Australia with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, hoping to build his business in that country. “I highly recommend joining one of their scheduled trade missions,” he says. “They also contract with a consulting firm in Australia to support your efforts.”

His contacts in Australia are interested in having Osborne establish a manufacturing center in the country. “I would prefer to manufacture here in the states and ship from our ports,” he says.

He describes Australian businesspeople as respectful, sincere and a shade more conservative than Americans. “What I see is a keen interest in what I have to say,” he says. “They are very attentive.”

Australia’s largest city, Sydney, has six different areas to explore — Sydney City, Sydney North, South, East and West and Inner Sydney. Sydney North, South and East feature beaches and parks. Sydney City has Sydney Harbour and The Rocks with shops, cafes and even ghost tours to Chinatown and City Centre with the Sydney Opera House. Sydney West houses Sydney Olympic Park, and Inner City is home to the alternative community of Glebe. 

The city’s economy
The capital of the State of New South Wales, Sydney has a diverse economy with more than 600 international companies in the city. Forty-eight percent of Australia’s top 500 companies are in Sydney. The city’s economy represents 31.7 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product. Industries include finance, communications and information technology, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and tourism.
New South Wales exports to Japan, India, the U.S. and New Zealand. The world’s largest coal export port is Newcastle Port, which annually generates more than $17 billion in trade.
Companies headquartered in Sydney include Cochlear Limited, which manufactures and markets implantable hearing devices for adults and children. In April two London-based companies —  Carbon Trade Exchange, an online platform for businesses to trade carbon credits, and Ventura Carbon, a boutique environmental advisory firm — relocated to New South Wales. 

Where to stay
When he visits Sydney, Osborne enjoys staying at the Shangri-La Hotel, which overlooks Sydney Harbour in the Rocks District. “The view of the harbor is breathtaking,” he says. Hotel amenities include fine dining, meeting and business facilities, wireless Internet in public facilities and a butler on request. The Westin Sydney is located in the former General Post Office building. It has a 24-hour business center, health club and indoor lap pool. The Observatory Hotel, an Orient Express property, has a boutique atmosphere and is located in the heart of Sydney. It has a day spa, gym and a starlit indoor pool and a tennis court.

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