A small company in Northern Ireland is making its mark on the developing network of highways stretching out around China's booming business center of Shanghai.
Kestrel Thermoplastics Ltd. of Kilrea has won orders from a Shanghai contractor to supply reflective road-marking material used for surface lines and traffic signs. Kestrel officials said they are confident other contracts will follow in what is a huge potential market as new highways open up, particularly in western China.
``We've already shipped two container loads to the contractor in China, which could become a very important market for us. The huge investment in infrastructure there is creating massive export opportunities,'' said Stephen Nugent, a Kestrel marketing executive.
The Kilrea company, which employs just 14, manufactures the thermoplastic material that blends binder, resin, aggregate, glass beads and additives. Kestrel already is an established supplier in Ireland, Britain and other parts of Europe and also has clients in Australasia.
The initial Chinese business, worth around $32,000, resulted from contacts made in late 2002 when Kestrel joined a trade mission organized by the Invest Northern Ireland regional development agency. Company representatives visited Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Although Kestrel attracted limited business sooner from Hong Kong, the firm had to wait until late last year before it won the first crucial Shanghai order.
``It does take a little longer to do business in China. They have different ways of doing business there and we have to understand the cultural and other differences,'' Nugent said.
His company, which exports around 30 percent of its output, won some earlier orders in Malaysia and India after joining Asian trade missions. It created a blend of material to meet Chinese requirements, and devotes time and money to developing mixes suitable for different climatic conditions.
Other Kestrel products include Preflex, a pre-formed thermoplastic in sheet form, used for larger road symbols, personalized logos, playground and educational surface markings; and Thermogrip, an anti-skid road-treatment material.
In 2000, Kestrel invested around £1 million ($1.5 million) in different aspects of the business including mixing machinery, research and development, product expansion and new offices designed to handle increasing foreign work, Nugent said in a telephone interview.
Kestrel, formed in 1987, has a sister contracting company that applies its heated material on roads in Ireland and Northern Ireland.