CHICAGO (June 26, 4:55 p.m. EDT) — After three years of seeding markets with material imported from Europe, engineering plastics compounder Lati USA Inc. is set to open a 22 million-pound-per-year plant in Charleston, S.C., in December.
The plant will operate three twin-screw extrusion lines producing compounds based on nylon, polycarbonate, polybutylene terephthalate and acetal, as well as a variety of high-temperature resins.
Its primary markets will be electrical/electronic, automotive and appliances, according to Lati USA President Greg Newby.
Newby anticipates that flame-retardant compounds will be Lati USA's strongest niche. In the FR area, Newby said the company will benefit from the 55 years of experience compiled by its parent firm, Lati Industria Termoplastici SpA of Milan, Italy.
"Europe has the most stringent FR requirements in the world, so we can make products for global customers that can pass any FR tests," he said in an interview at NPE in Chicago. "We're experts at managing low toxicity and low smoke."
The new firm also found a unique way to meet its labor needs.
Officials were concerned about finding enough workers since the Charleston area has an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent. The problem was solved when a monofilament plant located less than a mile away from the Lati site announced it would close at the end of 2000, dropping a trained, self-managed, technically experienced work force in Lati's lap.
Lati hired 25 of its 50 employees from the monofilament plant, including plant manager Bill Stech.
Newby said Lati USA's three years of importing were challenging, but the challenge was alleviated by its parent's international presence.
"We're new in the U.S. market, but it's rare that we meet a large company that doesn't know about us," he said.
A second building phase that will double the size of the plant is set to begin in 2003.
Newby credited South Carolina state government with working with Lati and other plastics companies to draw them to the Charleston area. In addition to granting Lati job credits and tax abatements, state officials have helped the firm establish training programs at local colleges.
The lure of European and Asian manufacturers establishing U.S. sites in the area was a big plus, as was the port of Charleston, which now ranks as one of the largest in the United States.
"Plastics is a top priority for South Carolina, and to their credit they're thinking globally all the way through the supply chain," he said. "We would talk with state officials and find out they were talking with our suppliers and customers too."
Newby declined to give a first-year sales estimate for the new plant, but said Lati's global sales are expected to hit $175 million in 2000. The firm averaged 16 percent annual growth throughout the 1990s.