Friday, February 17, 2012

Ink maker in Charlotte boasts global reach

If you're drinking soda from a can right now, chances are it's adorned with ink that was made here in Charlotte, at a plant off Westinghouse Boulevard.

INX International Ink Co. makes ink for the aluminum can market. Its 46,000-square-foot Charlotte facility, which opened in 2004, is the world’s largest two-piece metal decorating ink plant, according to INX’s website.

The company dominates its niche, with 100 percent domestic market share and 70 percent internationally, says Al Baird, INX general manager here.

At the 70-person plant, Baird says, “we take a liquid and put it into a colored pigment. We mix it up, and then we grind it into an ink. That ink gets applied at the can maker to aluminum cans.”

Some of the company’s handiwork is on display in the lobby: row after row of aluminum cans, ranging from Coke to Pepsi to Bud Light to Miller Lite. The company’s four clients are the major aluminum can makers: Ball Corp.’s Metal Beverage Packaging Division, Metal Container Corp. (part of Anheuser-Busch), Rexam Containers and Crown Cork & Seal Co.

INX is part of Sakata INX, a Japanese conglomerate.

Baird, 52, sat down with me last week to discuss INX’s success, what lies ahead and how the company guards against complacency. What follows is an excerpt of the interview that will run in Sunday's MoneyWise section.

Q. How's business?

“Business has been very steady. It’s very strong. It’s been steady through all the economic cycles. We’ve kept a steady pace of volume out here.”

Q. How have you done that?

“I think the worldwide demand for the aluminum can. It’s a very environmentally friendly product; it’s 100 percent recyclable. If every can would be recycled again, there’d be no need to mine any bauxites, at least for the beverage can industry. It’s a very economic package. It’s very durable. It’s friendly to low-cost shipping because it’s so light. You get tremendous value in this package.”

Q. Has your payroll fluctuated much in the last couple of years?

“We’ve gone up a little bit. I think the biggest increase you see is that we have more technical service people now than we’ve ever had. I think it’s a shift to give our customers better service at their site. You don’t see a lot of people in the lab today because they’re out on the customers’ locations. We do quite a bit of travel here. Our lab people will go all over the world. Right now we have a guy in Brazil, and he’s been there for two weeks. We had two people in Europe last year for long stints. Vietnam is another one.”

For more info, visit the parent company's website at

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Software company looks to add 85 jobs in Charlotte

AvidXchange, a Charlotte-based software company, is looking to add 85 jobs here over the next 18 months.

The privately held company has about 125 employees in Charlotte now and 25 more spread across the country, including an office in Somerset, N.J., a suburb of New York City.

Founded in 2000, AvidXchange automates the bill-payment functions for companies. CEO and co-founder Mike Praeger said today that business has been booming since 2008. Sales are in the $15 million to $20 million range, he said, and increased 52 percent last year.

Asked about the local job market, Praeger said that it's "very difficult to find the people we need" and that the company "routinely" relocates people to Charlotte from other parts of the country. "We wish we didn't have to do that because it's obviously more expensive to relocate."

He said AvidXchange competes against the banks, Duke Energy and other high-profile companies for the "top talent."

The company is adding jobs in three main areas: software development and product management; support staff for those positions; and technical sales and marketing. The salary range for the software development positions is $70,000 to $120,000, Praeger said.

AvidXchange occupies two floors in the Metropolitan building in Midtown.

For more info, visit

Monday, February 6, 2012

Machine-tool maker expands

Chiron America Inc., which makes machine tools, this week celebrates its plant expansion off Westinghouse Boulevard in southwest Charlotte.

Chiron America recently added 20,000 square feet to its 55,000-square-foot facility at a cost of $1.6 million. The company, a subsidiary of Chiron in Germany, added 17 employees last year and is "continually recruiting," according to Chief Operating Officer Dirk Zikeli. He said today that Chiron America is in the market for three electricians right now to boost its workforce of 86.

The company is participating in Apprenticeship 2000, a four-year technical training program available to high school graduates in Charlotte.

As for future growth, "all signs are very, very positive for this year," Zikeli said. He cited the company's automotive customers as one of the main drivers of that growth.

Sales have skyrocketed after bottoming out during the recession. Last year's total was $62 million, up from $48 million in 2010 and $18 million in 2009, Zikeli said.

Thursday's ceremony marks the official opening of the expansion, which actually was completed in October.

Chiron America opened in Charlotte in 1993 as a sales and service center; the North American headquarters was established a year later. The current plant on Withers Cove Park Drive opened in 2001.

For more info, visit the parent company's website at

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

SPX marks milestone in construction of new HQ

The traditional "topping out" ceremony was held today for SPX's new headquarters in Ballantyne.

The diversified global industrial conglomerate expects to move into the nine-story, 241,000-square-foot building early next year. SPX, which has about 250 employees in Charlotte, is now based down the street from the new building in Ballantyne Corporate Park.

The current building is "very full," SPX spokeswoman Jennifer Epstein says, so the company has employees scattered throughout the park.

General contractor Balfour Beatty Construction hosted the topping-out ceremony, which marks completion of the steel framework for the building. LS3P is the architect for the SPX project, which also includes a four-story garage. The Bissell Cos. is Ballantyne's developer.

Such events are getting to be old hat for Bissell Chairman Smoky Bissell. He recently presided over two topping-out ceremonies for Bissell's speculative office buildings in Ballantyne -- 10-story, 275,000-square-foot structures that are slated for completion by year's end.

The event comes one week after SPX agreed to sell its Service Solutions business to Robert Bosch GmbH for $1.15 billion in cash. SPX expects to record an after-tax book gain of approximately $450 million, or $8.65 per share.

In a prepared statement last week, Chris Kearney, the company's chairman, president and CEO, said: "This divestiture narrows our strategic focus and enhances our ability to build out our Flow Technology segment. Flow Technology is the foundation of our company and we now expect that segment to represent more than 50 percent of our revenue going forward."

For more info, visit

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nucor's DiMicco wins national award

Congratulations to Dan DiMicco, Nucor's chairman and CEO, who has won the Robert P. Stupp Award for Leadership Excellence from the American Institute of Steel Construction. DiMicco, 61, will be honored at AISC's conference in Dallas in April.

DiMicco's predecessor at Charlotte-based Nucor, Ken Iverson, won this award in 1999.

"The award ... gives special recognition to individuals who have provided unparalleled leadership in the steel construction industry," said AISC President Roger Ferch in a prepared statement. "Dan is an exemplary leader in the steel construction industry and a strong advocate for domestic manufacturing jobs."

DiMicco, who served on AISC's board from 1999 to 2001, said he was "tremendously honored," adding, "Manufacturing continues to be the backbone of the middle class in this country, and that backbone is strengthened with American steel."

Late last year DiMicco was named to IndustryWeek magazine's Manufacturing Hall of Fame, where he was one of 10 inductees who "made names for themselves by challenging the established norms of their organizations, their industries and their world."

DiMicco, a graduate of Brown University with a master's degree from Penn, has worked at Nucor since 1982. He became president and CEO in 2000 and added the chairman's title in 2006. He served on the U.S. Manufacturing Council board from 2008 to 2011. He currently serves on the board for Duke Energy, the American and Iron Steel Institute and the World Steel Association.

It's been a good week for DiMicco. Nucor on Thursday reported higher fourth-quarter and year-end earnings, topping analysts' expectations.

For more info, visit

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Manufacturing and the jobs crisis

As a reporter who covers jobs and manufacturing, I recommend two recent articles, one from The New York Times and one from The Atlantic magazine.

The former deals with Apple and is titled: "How the U.S. lost out on iPhone work." The latter tells the story of Standard Motor Products and is called "Making it in America."

Both stories delve deeply into timely topics, given the Republican debates and the State of the Union speech. Happy reading and I welcome your feedback on these well-researched, well-written articles.

Here are the links:

Charlotte Venture Challenge launches $100,000 business plan competition

Heads-up, entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs:

The Charlotte Venture Challenge business innovation competition, formerly known as Five Ventures, is accepting applications from early-stage entrepreneurial companies until Feb. 29.

The Challenge, organized by UNC Charlotte's Charlotte Research Institute and the Ben Craig Center, will award $100,000 in prize money -- a serious boost from previous years -- to the winning companies in six categories: new energy and high-tech; IT and informatics; life and biotech sciences; consumer products and services; student ventures; and social enterprises.

The competition includes a series of five workshops for registered firms beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Over the course of three months, participants will learn about opportunity assessments, receive mentoring and connect with other entrepreneurs. The finals and awards will be held on April 19.

In its 11th year, the Challenge has been renamed to encompass a broader mission and to reflect new sponsors and increased prize money.

The competition has an impressive pedigree:

YAP Inc., a 2006 competitor, was sold to last fall for an undisclosed price. Founded by brothers Victor and Igor Jablokov, YAP developed a cloud-based mobile speech recognition platform.

SoyMeds Inc., a 2006 winner and a UNCC Biology Department spinout, recently won the life sciences company award from the N.C. Technology Association.

Infosense, a 2010 competitor, and MailVu, the 2011 winner, both were awarded grants of up to $50,000 from NC IDEA last fall. NC IDEA recognizes promising tech companies.

To apply, visit For more info, contact Devin Collins at 704-250-5753 or