By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A company that traces its roots to its founding in Chicago nearly 70 years ago has big expansion plans in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area, thanks in large part to the leadership position the region enjoys in composites and additive manufacturing.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of years of work and evolution,” Peter Hedger Jr., Director of Marketing and Communications for Magnum Venus Products, better known as MVP, says. The company announced plans in md-December to build more than 80,000 square foot of space in the Hardin Valley area of West Knoxville over the next five years. The initial build-out will be 40,000 square feet and employ about 70 people.
“This location is within a nine-hour drive of 80 percent of our customer base and six hours from the majority of the industry base, some of which is raw materials,” Hedger explains. That fact, coupled with research going on at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the presence of companies like Local Motors and LeMond Composites, made the decision very logical.
“We had to expand here,” he says.
Hedger, whose father is President and Chief Financial Officer of MVP, has immersed himself in the region and its initiatives as has his father. For example, the senior Hedger is on the board of the American Composites Manufacturers Association while the younger Hedger serves on the Technical Advisory Board for IACMI, the composites institute that is national in focus and located near MVP’s West Knoxville office.
MVP evolved from a Chicago company that Hedger’s grandfather founded. That company, initially named Graves Spray Supply, was a large distributor of coating equipment.
“My grandfather developed a gun and pumping system to mix and meter to spray and chop fiberglass,” Hedger said. The company adopted the name Magnum Industries, a reference to the second movie in the “Dirty Harry” series that featured Clint Eastwood.
The biggest competitor to Magnum was a company named Venus Products.
“It had better equipment, but could not beat our sales team,” Hedger said, noting that “people buy from people and people buy emotionally. Our product was good but not as well-engineered as theirs.”
So, in 2000, Magnum purchased Venus, hence the new name of Magnum Venus Products. The acquisition also provided a manufacturing facility in Kent, WA. Seven years later, the company purchased Plastech T.T., a British firm which had a distinct capability in the closed molding process.
That’s when the younger Hedger came on board with the family-owned MVP and relocated to Knoxville.
The company has had a presence here for 18 years, and West Knoxville is the corporate headquarters. Yet, the new facility will be the first time MVP has manufactured outside of its Kent plant.
“My father was attracted to the region because of the boating industry and our expertise in fiberglass,” Hedger said. “He wanted to set-up a sales branch here.” That was in 1998, and MVP experienced good growth.
Then, along came the economic downturn that started in 2008. MVP saw cuts of more than 50 percent, but it has recovered nicely, in no small part by being located where so much research and cutting-edge manufacturing occurs utilizing carbon fiber and composites.
As Hedger looks to the future, he clearly sees carbon fiber and composites being a growth market for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the impact that the lighter weight materials can have on so many industries.
“One of the challenges will be to develop sensing technologies that can see if carbon fiber is stressed or damaged,” Hedger says. “Recycling will be the next hurdle for composites.”
Calling it a clearly disruptive technology if the predicted price drop actually occurs, he adds that the “strength-to-dollar ratio of carbon fiber is going to be a game changer for the boating and glass industries.”
With its current and under development technologies, MVP intends to capitalize on those emerging opportunities in the epicenter of R & D.