Robert Lapeyre knows all about the difficulties of doing business in the New Orleans area.
The region is still coming back from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. There is still a shortage of workers. The family-owned Laitram Corp. and its Intralox LLC are on a cramped piece of land in the New Orleans suburb of Harahan, La., surrounded by homes, other manufacturers and one of the levees holding back the nearby Mississippi River.
When the time came to think about where to build a second injection molding plant, the company had good reason to consider casting a wide net in search of new site. Instead, it stayed close to home.
``Proximity turned out to be a huge issue for us,'' said Lapeyre, corporate planner for Laitram, a company launched by his father and grandfather in the 1940s. ``We went through all kinds of debates looking at Mississippi, Texas and beyond. We had to decide what was really valuable to us. We determined that absolutely, by far, our most important resource was the people, and the people were in Harahan.''
The company's new Intralox molding company will be in Hammond, La., less than 60 miles from Harahan - close enough that the firm can easily move people and work as needed and retain the corporate culture, yet far enough to reduce chances that the same natural disaster will affect both sites.
``We're going to be able to start with our existing labor pool, our existing talent, and we can grow fairly rapidly,'' he said.
And Hammond also offers something Harahan does not have: more workers. Many people were forced to move because of damage from Katrina.
``Hammond has a wonderful work force,'' Lapeyre said in a June 8 telephone interview. ``They just received 100,000 new residents, but not necessarily the jobs to go with them.''
About 15 percent of Laitram's work force already is living near Hammond, commuting to Harahan each day.
Intralox and Laitram survived 2005's Hurricane Katrina without any major damage and, in fact, have continued to grow. The company's injection molded, interlocking conveyor belts are used widely in a variety of industries.
The current molding plant turns out up to 5,000 different piece parts every day on 100 presses.
``The facility there is highly flexible,'' Lapeyre said. ``We've got a highly trained staff.
``It's the sort of a place that can accomplish anything you need, even at 2 [o'clock] in the morning,'' he said.
Intralox simply was running out of space in Harahan.
At Hammond, the company has purchased 56 acres, leaving plenty of space to grow, with the potential to add a distribution center on the site.
The firm will begin with 20 presses and centralized blending and delivery system for resins. The first building, at 80,000 square feet, will have four overhead crane lines, each up to 180 feet long, leaving room to add up to 30 more presses.
Eventually, the company expects it could add on to that site as business grows, with the potential investment hitting $80 million within the next seven years.
``This is our neighborhood,'' Lapeyre said. ``Our family and friends live in this area. It's an extension of our campus.''