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Heath describes wooing Kilgour

Thursday, February 6, 2014

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

When Kilgour Industries Ltd. officials first visited the Henry County area in June, it was hot. They had been to seven other possible plant sites and were tired, and they had to shorten their visit to two hours because they had a plane to catch.

But they were impressed with what they saw and heard.

Less than a week later, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) learned that “Martinsville-Henry County had gone from last place to first” on the company’s list of potential sites, said Mark Heath, the president/CEO of the EDC.

The result was Friday’s announcement that Kilgour will build its first U.S. facility in Henry County and create 155 jobs.

Heath said the EDC first was contacted about Kilgour, which specializes in computerized numerical control (CNC) machining, wet chemical surface treatments and sub-assemblies of aerospace components, on June 7.

Joe Anwyl with the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), a $40 million consortium created by the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and others, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) notified the local EDC about the prospect, Heath said.

Anwyl focuses on getting potential suppliers in the aerospace industry to locate in the more than 20 localities that make up the tobacco region, Heath said.

Kilgour officials visited the area in June on their last stop on a tour of eight sites in various locations, including Petersburg, just south of Richmond, Heath added.

“We literally got a phone call that they were on the way,” he said. The company officials asked to be reminded “again ‘Why we are coming some place that is three hours away from Petersburg,’” Heath said. “We convinced them to come on. We were the last place they visited. It was hot. They were tired.”

Also, what was supposed to be a half-day visit was shortened to two hours because Kilgour officials had to meet a plane, he added.

“We were in the Patriot Centre the whole time,” Heath said. “They thought they were coming to the middle of nowhere, and when they saw all the company names” in the Patriot Centre, and particularly RTI International Metals Inc., “that eased their mind.”

Kilgour officials toured RTI, Heath said, and “that helped us a lot.”

When the tour was over, Ray Kilgour, the company’s CEO, “said, ‘That was impressive,’” Heath recalled. “They had a whole new lease on life” even before the EDC and other local representatives made their pitch to the company in RTI’s conference room.

“As part of the presentation, we talked about workforce training,” Heath said. Leanna Blevins, associate director and chief academic officer for NCI, joined Heath for the presentation and was sharing a list of assets at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and the New College when she mentioned that a Mazak 5-axis machine will be incorporated into NCI’s new facility, he said.

Because that meant that potential employees could be trained on the same machine Kilgour uses, “that was another watershed moment,” Heath said.

However, “there was not any one thing that made the deal,” he said. “RTI and the equipment set were a couple of those things that helped early on. Then the other thing that impressed them” was keeping the tour and presentation within the allotted two-hour time frame and getting company officials to their flight on time, he said.

When Kilgour officials left after that initial visit, “we were hoping we would hear back, but we didn’t know,” Heath said. By the middle of the following week, Anwyl called. He told Heath that during follow-up meetings with Kilgour in the U.K., he learned Kilgour was impressed.

“And Martinsville-Henry County had gone from last place to first” on the company’s list of potential sites, Heath said.

Kilgour then asked that Heath attend the Paris Air Show — about 10 days away — and continue discussions, Heath said. He flew to Paris and spent three days with Kilgour, state officials and others who attended the event.

RTI officials also attended the air show, and Heath introduced Kilgour to Dawn Hickton, vice chairman, CEO and president of RTI. Hickton “was able to tell them about their experience and how this community will do what it says it will do,” Heath said.

Discussions continued over the summer. By early fall, Heath asked William Wampler, executive director of NCI, to go with him to tour Kilgour’s facilities in the U.K.

“We went in September to see firsthand what they do and how they do things,” Heath said. In October, Kilgour and some other company officials returned to Henry County-Martinsville for a week-long visit, Heath said.

After that, “we went into the final stages of negotiations” and worked with state officials, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and others to seal the deal, Heath said.

“Everybody was helpful and receptive, and it got done. Generally, a project like this doesn’t get done in seven months. It’s more like a year to 18 months,” he said.

But time means money to Kilgour because “there is a huge need for 27,000 commercial aircraft between now and 2033,” and Kilgour is positioning itself to be among the first to help provide the needed parts, Heath said.

Kilgour officials praised the recruitment effort at Friday’s announcement, calling the EDC one of the area’s greatest assets.

“They have said the professionalism, and the way we presented the community was better than most places they had been,” Heath said.

With any presentation to a company, “we don’t try to make them think everything’s perfect. We give them a fair and honest report. We also don’t have a standard presentation,” Heath said. “We try to do our homework and have a tailored presentation for every client that comes here.”

“Kilgour Industries is coming to Henry County for lots of good reasons, but primarily because of the quality of the workforce and the economic opportunities that Southside Virginia has to offer. We have been working hard to attract companies like Kilgour into the region, and this new business represents a tremendous step towards restoring economic growth in the region,” state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, said in a news release.

Stanley, who also is a member of the tobacco commission, said he supports education to help provide training opportunities that companies such as Kilgour need for employees.

Kilgour expects to break ground in Henry County later this year, with initial operations to begin in 2015 in a 59,000-square-foot building constructed on an 8.5-acre pad of a 17-acre tract in the Patriot Centre industrial park, according to Henry County Administrator Tim Hall.

Heath said the company’s goal is eventually to expand its Henry County facility to 100,000 square feet.

“Now, the real work begins,” Heath said.


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