The song of the South has led Italian compounder So.F.Ter Group to open its first plant in the United States in Lebanon, Tenn.
Forli, Italy-based So.F.Ter is beginning production this week at the new 100,000-square-foot plant. The site employs 50 and has annual production of 50 million pounds on four twin-screw extrusion lines.
The plant will make compounds primarily based on polypropylene, nylon and polyesters. New lines to make compounds based on thermoplastic elastomers will be installed next year. Automotive will be the plant's largest end market — and is the reason why So.F.Ter chose to locate in the Southeast U.S., where many new auto plants have been built in the last decade.
“Having a location in the U.S., in Tennessee, completes our strategy to cover the Americas,” global commercial director Riccardo Meucci said in an Oct. 29 phone interview. The firm already has plants in Mexico and Brazil, although it was selling very little into the U.S. So.F.Ter now can provide material for the European automakers it works with. Appliances are the firm's second-largest end market.
Being located in Tennessee also allows So.F.Ter to reach the industrial base of the Midwest U.S., according to So.F.Ter USA President Keith Rodden. The firm looked at several southern locations, he said, but “quickly zeroed in” on the Nashville area because of the area's rail access, airport and available land. Lebanon is about 30 miles east of Nashville.
So.F.Ter spent $20 million on the new plant, which can be expanded to cover 250,000 square feet, 200 employees and 200 million pounds of production capacity.
Companywide, So.F.Ter now has seven plants, using 18 resins and 60,000 formulations. The 34-year-old firm delivered 6,500 products in 2013. Sales for 2014 are projected at $400 million — more than triple its sales level of 2008.
Up next for So.F.Ter is the Asian market, where it plans to open a plant in India in 2016. A Chinese plant should follow next, Meucci said.
Meucci and Rodden had worked together for several years at Matrixx Group, the Evansville, Ind.-based compounder that was acquired by private equity group Wind Point Partners in 2007. Wind Point then sold Matrixx's European business — consisting of two plants in Italy — to So.F.Ter in 2008. Meucci had been managing director of Matrixx Europe and joined So.F.Ter after the sale.
Rodden held a number of management roles with Citadel Plastics — Wind Point's renamed plastics business — before joining So.F.Ter in November 2013. Rodden's son Mark, who also worked at Matrixx and Citadel, now serves as vice president of sales and marketing for So.F.Ter USA.
The new So.F.Ter plant joins a growing list of specialty plastics projects in the Southeast U.S. Lanxess Corp. opened a nylon compounding plant in Gastonia, N.C., in late 2012. In September, Asahi Kasei Plastics North America broke ground in Athens, Ala., on a new PP compounding plant that's set to open in 2016, and just this week, Royal DSM NV confirmed that it would locate a new nylon resin plant in Augusta, Ga.