Battenfeld of America Inc. will end more than 20 years of operations in West Warwick, R.I., as officials announced Oct. 13 that the firm will move to the Chicago area.
Michael Santa, president and chief executive officer, said the company is looking at buildings in three Chicago-area suburbs, and in the city itself. The move could happen as early as the end of the year. Santa said he wants a building that measures about 20,000 square feet.
Santa said the Chicago-area U.S. headquarters also will house the company's key U.S. spare-parts operation. Santa was named the top executive in 2002. He lives in Chicago, but said the move is not about one person, but is designed to put the company closer to customers.
The company also considered moving to Michigan, since it sells lots of injection presses to automotive molders, Santa said. But officials did not want the company to be seen as focused only on automotive.
``More companies in our business have their headquarters in the Chicago area than any other area,'' Santa said.
Chicago, particularly locations near O'Hare International Airport, is especially popular among Japanese plastics machinery manufacturers.
Battenfeld moved to decentralize some operations in 2000, when it announced it would set up regional sales and service locations. The press supplier now runs four of those facilities, in Novi, Mich.; Kintnersville, Pa.; Greenville, S.C.; and Newport Beach, Calif.
Santa said the company is evaluating what type of facility, if any, to have on the East Coast. ``We're not going to abandon our East Coast customers,'' he said.
Chicago sits in the middle of an important region for plastics manufacturing - Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
``Demographically, it makes sense to relocate our headquarters to Chicago,'' Santa said. ``The people and the operation we have in Rhode Island have made an outstanding contribution to Battenfeld in the past 20 years. But much of the market we want, along with many our current and potential customers, is in this area.''
The firm cited statistics from the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. that said the five-state region is one of only two areas in the United States to post a 2002 gain in primary machines shipped to customers.
About 20 people work in West Warwick, Santa said. Some of them will relocate to Chicago, and some, such as service people, will continue to work for Battenfeld but not move. The machinery supplier will look to fill some positions in Chicago, he said.
Plastics history buffs and industry veterans will note the move means Battenfeld of America actually is returning to its roots. In 1959, the company was incorporated in Skokie, Ill. In 1980, the company opened a U.S. assembly operation in West Warwick, then began to phase out Skokie and move the entire headquarters to the Rhode Island building.
The new location will include a showroom and demonstration facility, and a training area.
Santa said the ``massive contraction'' in the U.S. machinery market during the past few years means suppliers are being asked to provide more total packages and better service. Battenfeld will stress its diverse offerings in advanced technology.
Battenfeld of America is the U.S. injection molding machine unit of SMS Plastics Technology of Meinerzhagen, Germany, which is owned by SMS AG.