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

50 new jobs coming to Statesville

Good news for Iredell County:

Origin Food Group LLC held a ribbon-cutting this week for a new processing plant in Statesville. The company is investing $7 million in the plant and plans to hire 40 to 50 workers by 2014.

The new facility will produce the company's frush line of drinkable yogurt and fruit shakes.

Origin, based in Statesville, is a partnership between the Alarcon family of Ecuador and the Stameys of Iredell County, which combines more than 60 years of experience in the dairy farming and cattle business.

Gov. Bev Perdue was on hand for the announcement and cited the state's investment in education and job-training programs for the "strong business climate."

Don Greenloe, Origin general manager, said in a prepared statement: "Our products promote a healthy lifestyle, giving our customers a delicious product that they can grab 'on the go.' All of us at Origin are excited about the future of this company and what it will mean in investments and jobs going forward."

For more info about Origin, visit and

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ballantyne developer says boom is response to demand

Ned Curran was beaming Thursday as Bissell Cos. held the 'topping out' ceremony for its second speculative office building under construction at Ballantyne.

Curran, Bissell’s president and CEO, talked with me before the event about a range of topics, including Ballantyne’s present and future, political talk of incorporating the massive development in south Charlotte and Ballantyne’s role with the Democratic National Convention.

The 10-story, 275,000-square-foot Gragg Building and its mirror building, the Woodward Building, together comprise the largest speculative office project in the nation slated for completion in 2012. They’re part of Ballantyne Corporate Park, a 535-acre, master-planned office and business community that includes more than 4.3 million square feet of office space and nearly 600 hotel rooms as well as restaurants, medical facilities and stores.

Here’s an excerpt of my Q&A with Curran, edited for space and clarity. For the full Q&A, read the MoneyWise section in Sunday's Observer.

Q: How’s business, as if I have to ask?

A: Business is good. We’re coming off back-to-back record years in terms of leasing activity. More hotel room nights than we’ve ever had in the history of our company. Our momentum is good, so we’re pretty optimistic about 2012.

Q: With all the construction going on out here, what do you know that other developers don’t?

A: There’s risk associated with speculative office projects. We started these buildings without one committed customer to the product, but we’ve had momentum now for three years in a row of leasing 500,000 to 600,000 square feet a year, so this is right in that range. When we look at the delivery of this product relative to what our demand has been, it should all square off fairly well.

We’re simply responding to the demand that we’re experiencing rather than taking a leap of faith that somebody’s going to show up. We have over 1 million square feet of active prospects for the Ballantyne submarket alone. All of those won’t commit to us, but we’ll convert a lot of those into successful leases.

Q: Do you have any leases you can announce now for the two spec buildings?

A: We do not have any committed leases for the spec buildings, but we’re in active discussions with several parties.

Q: What’s next for Ballantyne?

A: We continue to try to innovate the common spaces, the public spaces to react to the employee who’s there today as technology changes how they work. We’re trying to create spaces where they can work inside a building and outside a building, so we’re constantly examining the spaces between the buildings. At the same time, we’re thinking about the next (office) building -- where should it go, how big should it be, what elements should it have in response to environmental and sustainable features. We’re trying to evolve with the customer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Furniture company expands/relocates to Fort Mill

Furniture company FOB -- based on the shipping term "Freight on Board" -- has moved to Fort Mill from Charlotte's South End and added 33 percent in square footage.

Founder and owner Brian Hunt tells the Observer that the company made the move to better accommodate its warehousing and distribution needs as well as several more employees it has hired lately. FOB has five full-time employees but expands to 80 employees during peak furniture-installing season for student housing. The company now occupies a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Bailes Ridge Corporate Park in Fort Mill.

 Nine-year-old FOB generates sales of $3.5 million a year, according to Hunt, and installs furniture all over the country, mostly for student and military housing. For more info, visit

Novarus Mobile Technologies adds principal, changes name

Novarus Mobile Technologies has a new leader and a new name.

The Charlotte-based company, which develops and markets apps for hospitals and health systems, physician practices and other health care clients, has hired longtime health care executive Tom Hearn as managing principal and changed its name to Novarus Healthcare.

Hearn, 51, previously served as senior VP of ambulatory services for Novant Health, parent company of Presbyterian Hospital. Before that, he spent 12 years as an executive with MedCath. During his tenure, MedCath grew from $30 million to $1 billion in annual revenue.

In a brief phone interview with the Observer today, Hearn says he expects "explosive growth" for Novarus in 2012. The 25-employee company does not disclose revenue. Novarus was founded by David Moore in 2002 to develop and market mobile handheld systems for a wide range of industries. Moore will remain with the company.

"The opportunities to provide better care for patients and to make care more affordable using these technologies is truly phenomenal," Hearn says in a news release.

Novarus apps serve health care providers who are planning a patient connectivity strategy, retooling for accountable care, implementing a patient-centered medical home, growing a medical practice, reorganizing their home health agency or developing a custom app for a specific challenge.

For more info, visit

Should state pay for businesses' training?

Interesting and thought-provoking article on Sunday's front page -- -- about the state paying for some businesses' training, including Siemens in Charlotte.

Some critics question the tactic, arguing that companies ought to be picking up the tab. Others, namely the state and the companies themselves, contend that the move creates badly needed jobs.

From the story: "The weak economic recovery has prompted states to become more aggressive in the race to snag precious jobs."

What do you think? Are states, particularly North Carolina, becoming too aggressive in their hunt for jobs? (Also, see Chiquita.) Or are such incentives fair game in the current economic environment? Tell me here or post a comment. I hope to spark a lively discussion for a future blog.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Two new acquisitions in Charlotte area

Call this post-holiday housecleaning. I want to note two recent deals that closed this week:

Classic Graphics Inc. of Charlotte has acquired certain assets of Harperprints in Henderson for an undisclosed price. Classic, which moved its headquarters last February to the former IBM campus in University City, expects 2012 sales of $55 million to $60 million. The deal cements Classic's position as the largest privately held graphic communications company in the Carolinas.

David Pitts, co-owner of Classic, calls this a logical move. "Combining operations with a prominent, industry leading company like Harperprints will help us sustain, and hopefully extend, our growth ambitions," he said in a news release.

Mike Harper, president and co-owner of Harperprints, will become executive VP-Triangle Division for the combined company. Classic, which employs 237, has hired 22 of Harperprints' 40 employees so far for its Morrisville location.

For more information, visit

The second transaction involves the sale of a Rock Hill-based videoconferencing and presentation technology integrator. Mpact Systems Inc. has been acquired by SKC Communication Products of Shawnee Mission, Kan., for an undisclosed price.

All 19 employees of Mpact, including owner Mark Mills, are now SKC employees, and the Rock Hill office becomes SKC's Southeast regional headquarters. Mpact was founded in 2004. SKC employs more than 230 people across the country.

For more info, visit

Two new deals to ring in the new year. How's business for you in 2012? Tell me here.

'Ready, fire, aim' -- entrepreneur sees robust growth in startups

Dan Roselli describes the entrepreneur’s mentality as “ready, fire, aim.” He says that only half-jokingly.

And he puts his money where his mouth is, having invested $8 million -- so far -- in the renovation of the 84-year-old Packard Place office building uptown into a thriving hub for startups.

The building, which “launched” last March, is a work in progress, as the small army of construction workers spread throughout the five-story structure Thursday morning attests. Roselli, 42, gave a tour of the building at 222 S. Church St. before sitting down to answer a few questions about Packard Place, its future and the current state of entrepreneurial activity in Charlotte, which he calls robust despite the sluggish economy.

Roselli’s own story is a testament to that. In addition to spearheading Packard Place, he also runs three small but fast-growing companies with a marketing emphasis.

What follows is a portion of a Q&A that has been edited for space and clarity. For the complete Q&A, read Sunday's MoneyWise section in the Observer.

Q: So, how’s business?

A: (Chuckling) I think business is good. It’s certainly a very challenging time. I think we’ve weathered the worst of the storm from an economic standpoint. I think we’ll continue to see slow, sustained growth. I also think what’s important is that entrepreneurs with good ideas, there’s plenty of good business opportunities out there. I think entrepreneurs that have really good ideas that meet consumer needs that are unmet right now, those companies are thriving. There are phenomenal success stories and explosive growth stories that are happening even in the midst of an economy that may not be robust.

Q: Cite some local examples.

A: You have Yap, which is a local company started by UNCC grads. MailVU here in Packard Place, a Five Ventures competition winner, just won the N.C. IDEA grant. They’re on a very fast growth trajectory streak. One of my own companies, CustomerStream, first time on the Inc. 5000 list, is just experiencing explosive growth because we’re filling an unmet need with community banks by helping them with their marketing efforts.

Q: What’s the market for high-tech startups in this area?

A: It’s interesting. Charlotte has a very robust emerging technology community that is under the radar screen to most people. There’s a group here called the Charlotte Regional Technology Council. There’s a group called Hackers and Founders. There’s a wonderful technology startup called OtherScreen. There’s Skookum, a technology development company that’s doing very well.

At a CRTech meeting, you’ll see 40 or 50 executives from 40 or 50 different technology companies that are in various stages of startup or rapid growth based here in Charlotte. I don’t think Charlotte will ever be another Silicon Valley, and that’s not the point, but Charlotte has a much more robust critical mass of technology-oriented companies than people think are here.