Windsor, Ontario, toolmaker Concours Mold Inc. will open a shop this summer in Alabama, staking an interest in a region that is starting to boom for automotive work.
The automotive tooling company will launch a 15,000-square-foot service and repair operation in Cullman, Ala., investing close to $4 million in building and equipment, said Mike Soulliere, general manager of the new facility, to be called Concours Mold Alabama. The site is to open by late June.
At first, the operation will stock mold components that can be used for engineering changes, replacement and repair. The company is considering partnerships with mold-parts suppliers to offer inventory on hand, Soulliere said.
That humble beginning is expected to lead to a much-larger operation in Cullman, he said. The company has purchased 7 acres of land and has room to expand quickly into mold production, Soulliere said. The timing will depend on how rapidly the company can establish a customer base in the region.
The potential for growth is tremendous in an area with many automotive molders but fewer tool shops, Soulliere said. While many large mold makers have moved to Tennessee, Georgia and surrounding states, Alabama has a relatively untapped customer base, he said.
The company - a maker of injection and reaction injection molds for bumper fascias and a variety of other exterior and interior parts - has served customers in the South from its two Windsor-area shops. However, those shops are limited due to geography, he said.
``Many customers [in Alabama] are shoot-and-ship molders, and no one has time to do engineering changes by shipping [molds] back to Detroit or Canada,'' Soulliere said. ``It's not economical from a logistics standpoint.''
The new shop, midway between Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., sits near several auto suppliers and automakers. The company will start with about 10 workers but plans to increase to around 40 employees in two years, Soulliere said. The facility will launch with a 40-ton crane and 20-ton auxiliary unit, and several boring and vertical mills and spotting presses.
Concours also is evaluating incentives offered by the state and local communities to train workers. The region does not have the quality of training for mold makers that many Detroit-area shops offer, Soulliere said.
``That's a risk factor for us, and we are willing to train local people to narrow that gap in technical skills,'' Soulliere said. ``There are quite a few good incentive programs that can be useful to us.''
Contrary to what some others have suffered through in tooling, Concours has been in a growth mode the past several years. Founded in 1994 by President Mark Goggin, Concours opened a 28,000-square-foot tooling shop, Denken Tooling Centre, two years ago near its Windsor facility.
Denken focuses on small to medium-size molds, while the 50,000-square-foot Concours site primarily makes larger molds. The company recorded around US$21.6 million (C$28 million) last year and expects that figure to grow to as much as US$27 million (C$35 million) in 2004, Soulliere said.
``This has created extra motivation and something to get excited about inside the company,'' he said. ``We're still growing, and no one's concerned whether there'll be jobs tomorrow.''