Raise a cheer
German-based IMS Gear Virginia expands in Virginia Beach and looks to U.S. for more international growth.
Mugs of German beer topped off an October ribbon-cutting ceremony for Germany-based IMS Gear Virginia Inc. in Virginia Beach. The company was celebrating a new 112,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that will help expand production of the gears it makes for power car seats.
That market is increasing, says company President Guenter Weissenseel. “More and more cars have electric seats” for drivers. That means seats for the “passenger market are still growing. That could double in the next three to four years.”
The company already has 65 percent of the U.S. automotive gear market, and Weissenseel expects to see that percentage trend upward. By last fall the company was producing more than 1 million gears per month. “Our business has multiplied five times in the last five years in Virginia Beach in both production numbers and revenue,” he says. “And, we are going to be growing 40 percent in volume in 2015.”
The new plant replaces the company’s original 34,000- square-foot plant in Virginia Beach that opened in 2000. IMS Gear is leasing the facility from The Miller Group, which developed the property.
While the company is pleased with the strides it has made in Virginia Beach, it did consider other locations for the recent expansion. It looked at Chesapeake and Norfolk as well as Gainesville, Ga., where it has another plant that manufactures gears for brakes, power steering and window regulators. It also considered a couple of existing buildings in Virginia Beach. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we stay in Virginia Beach or go somewhere?’” Weissenseel says.
The company opted to stay based on the city’s willingness to work with IMS Gear Virginia in 2000 and again with this recent expansion. “We also had 60 to 70 people here, and we didn’t want to lose them,” Weissenseel says.
The company has created more than 150 new jobs to support the expansion. “In 2009 we had 54 employees in Virginia Beach, and now we have 210,” notes Weissenseel.
The Oceanside location is a perk for employees who visit from the company’s parent IMS Gear in Germany. “There are lots of things to do here,” he says.
IMS Gear is based in Donaueschingen in Germany’s Black Forest region. Johan Morat founded the company in 1863 to manufacture precision instruments for the cuckoo clock and watch industry. Maximilian Zimber-Morat, great-great-grandson of the company founder, visited the Virginia Beach facility for the recent dedication.
It is one of 10 IMS Gear manufacturing facilities around the world — six in Germany plus one in Mexico and one in China in addition to the Georgia and Virginia plants in the U.S. According to Weissenseel, the company expects sales this year to be “around $480 million.”
IMS Gear was very localized to the Black Forest region before it began selling outside of Germany in the 1990s. “We moved outside to become a global player,” Weissenseel says. “A lot of our customers asked us to be located where they were.”
Those customers included Siemens in Georgia. IMS Gear opened its facility there in 1995 in the same building that housed Siemens.
The company currently is focusing on international growth in Europe, the U.S., Mexico and China. The U.S. is the largest market for the products made at IMS Gear Virginia. When dealing internationally “you need to understand that every country works a little differently. Every country has its own rules,” Weissenseel says. “It takes time to understand the rules.”
Companywide, 70 percent of the business comes from the automotive market. “That is where we want to grow,” Weissenseel says. The company also makes gears for blinds, forklifts and aircraft as well as for automotive hatches on cars. In the Europe market, it makes gears for electric bikes.
IMS Gear depends on the work of tradesmen, but Weissenseel fears there could be a shortage of qualified workers in the future, especially in the U.S. “Somewhere we have lost our trade schools,” he says. “We need to train our kids again and tell them it’s okay to get your hands dirty. It’s okay to be a toolmaker.”
There is still an emphasis on learning a trade in Germany, he adds. “If you want to go to Germany with the company, you have that ability. We have 200 apprentices in Germany. Out of the company’s 2,600 employees, 8 to 9 percent are apprentices learning hands on.”
Economy in Germany’s Black Forest region
Germany’s Black Forest region is located in the southwestern section of the country. Clockmakers in the region have been making cuckoo clocks since the 1700s. The area has a variety of companies involved in the manufacturing of semiconductors and injection molding. The state of Baden-Württemberg is home to companies such as automotive corporation Daimler AG, Porsche, optics company Carl Zeiss AG and software firm SAP AG. The area around Stuttgart is a hub for companies devoted to research and development.
Economy in Virginia Beach
Major industries in Virginia Beach include advanced manufacturing, biomedical, life sciences, defense, information services, maritime and logistics. The city was named one of America’s manufacturing boomtowns in 2013. This year Vancouver-based Canada Metal (Pacific) Ltd. announced a plan to open a manufacturing plant in the city, its first site in the U.S. The company manufactures and markets marine and industrial products. Last year the city announced 50 new business relocation and expansion projects. In October DOMA Technologies, a cloud-based data and document management company, announced plans to create 150 jobs in the city in an expansion. The company was awarded a multi-million dollar contract from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, construction has already begun on a 58,000-square-foot brewery, tasting room and beer garden for Green Flash Brewing Co. It will be the San Diego-based brewery’s first East Coast location. It’s scheduled to open in 2016.