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While many U.S. companies are buying products from China or setting up factories there, one Alabama company exports its products and services to China. Electric Systems & Controls, a Birmingham-based firm in business since 1960, has found a niche in the Chinese market.
It seems Electric Systems and Controls’ excellent international reputation preceded it to China. The company, under its present ownership (Gregory Bray is President and CEO) since 1980, is well known in the foundry, cement, and paper industries for its engineering and production processing machinery for heavy industrial plants. It had some experience in international work, but nothing on the scale of what the Chinese wanted.
Greg Bray tells how it happened: “It seems a Chinese salesman, while he visited Weichai Power Co., had an American magazine that featured one of our advertisements. He showed it to the right person, who initiated the contact with Bray in Birmingham. “That salesman now works for us,” Bray says.
Weichai Power Co., headquartered in Weifang City, Shandong, China came to Bray and asked him to bid on a large project for engineering and building a cupola melt facility and emission control system for a diesel manufacturing plant in Weifang City. The contract was for $11.8 million.
A cupola melt facility is a vertical shaft furnace used to melt scrap iron for re-use in heavy iron products like engine blocks.
Bray did bid, and won the contract over a German competitor. But financing was a challenge according to Mr. Bray. “Fortunately, we were able with the assistance of First Commercial Bank in Birmingham and the Alabama International Trade Center, to obtain a working capital guarantee from the Export-Import Bank of the US,” he explained. In essence, the working capital guarantee enabled a performance bond to be issued which the project requires.
The Alabama International Trade Center, an SBDC in Tuscaloosa, is a partnership program with the SBA and the Alabama Small Business Development Consortium.
“The other parts of the work there have been challenging,” Bray added. Language barriers, sub-contractor issues, and shipping made the final negotiation of the contract tedious. “The Chinese simply do business a different way. We had to hire a consultant to help us through that,” Greg added. Now finalized, the Company has delivered the material, and awaits the initial start-up.
And Mr. Bray is soon scheduled for his 23rd trip to China to start on another bid he won with the same company for a second cupola melt facility at the same plant.
Congratulations to Electric Controls and Systems of Birmingham – a true American and Alabama success story.
Jacob Oestriecher, owner of J & W Wood Specialist, Inc., Stapleton, Alabama, manufactures wood construction stakes. “At the time the hurricanes hit, I had 19 customers, of which 18 were located on either the Gulf Coast or New Orleans. The hurricane wiped them all out.” The damage my company sustained was not physical damage to the firm itself, but was economic damage.”
His customer base was eliminated and he had no sales. He had a total of four employees. The business was closed for six weeks after the hurricane. From the time the hurricane hit to the time he re-started the business, they worked with a gentleman about ten miles north of Stapleton that is in the modular home building business. Mr. Oestriecher says, “I had made a deal with him, that when my shop was slow, that my employees and I could go to work for him on a day-to-day basis.”
The company had been in business for five years last September. Everyone told him that he couldn’t make it because he didn’t have a college education. He said, “I was going to prove them wrong.” That is what motivated him to both start my business and re-start my business after the hurricane.
The loan received was an economic injury disaster loan for $36,600. Oestriecher said “The process was very simple. My wife did all of the leg work. We went to the Bayou La Batre office only twice. I would have completed the paperwork the first time I visited the SBA office, but I didn’t know what I needed for the application. Applying for the loan was a one and a half week - process. Getting the loan was another 2 weeks.” If he had not received the SBA loan, Oestriecher says, “I would not be in business and could not have re-started the business. I would do it (apply for the SBA loan) again in a heartbeat, if needed.”
As president of All Native Services, Lance Morgan leads an award-winning tribal-owned small business that provides managed and professional services, including program management, public affairs, and complete voice and data communications solutions.
In 1994, Morgan was asked by Winnebago Tribal leaders to organize Ho-Chunk, Inc., the reservation’s economic development company. At the time, the reservation in northeast Nebraska suffered nearly 70 percent unemployment. Today, there are more than 20 companies under the Ho-Chunk umbrella, including All Native Services, and unemployment on the reservation has dropped to less than 10 percent.
All Native Services has an international presence and also offers specialized government programs in operations, maintenance, training and professional services, including government services and temporary and permanent staffing. In 2009, the company produced $25 million in annual revenue, with more than 300 employees in four countries.
Morgan is active in his community, and has ensured more than $1 million from corporation profits have been returned to the community for scholarships, expansion of the tribal college, and job training programs for Winnebago members. He brought the Junior Achievement Organization to the Winnebago School, becoming the nation’s first tribal school on a reservation to offer Junior Achievement to students. Morgan also started a summer intern program that provides outstanding college students of the Winnebago Tribe valuable work experience within a business environment and tracks potential tribe members for prospective employment.
In addition to his leadership with All Native Services, Morgan spearheaded development of a new 40-acre Ho-Chunk Village, offering affordable homes, stores, businesses, a youth center and a town square for tribal members. With a strong commitment to using and developing clean sustainable energy systems, Morgan began a Renewable Energy Division within the firm in 2009. Under his guidance, the firm has deployed numerous wind and solar systems on the reservation and has sold them in the regional marketplace. It is one of the few renewable energy companies with its own production system.
Morgan is a highly sought after leader, and more than 100 tribes across the nation have asked Morgan for advice to replicate his model for economic development. He has received numerous honors and awards, and has been named the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2010 Region VII Minority Small Business Person of the Year. SBA’s Region VII includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.