Ready to test the demand

WEIRTON – The Italian company that wants to build a $9 million plant in the Three Springs Drive business park will be testing demand here in the U.S. during the next 18 months.

Pietro Fiorentini General Manager Sergio Trevisan said they’re confident there’s a market for their products – pressure regulators, valves and pressure reducing and metering systems.

“But we need to test the reaction of the shale gas market to our presence,” he said. “We have a good feeling, but we need to test it.”

If the tests pan out, he said construction of the 50,000-square-foot plant will start late in 2014. In the meantime, the company has leased a 15,000-square-foot space in the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom where it will set up shop temporarily.

“We don’t have a problem spending $9 million (to build a plant) if it’s necessary and if the market reacts positively to our presence,” he said.

Trevisan said the 70-year-old company has a sales office in Atlanta, but the Weirton plant will be its first production facility in the U.S.

“We have the knowledge to sell all over the world, in every country except here,” he said, pointing out they currently have two plants in China, others in France and Hungary.

“Our strategy is for a local market, we want to be present in the local market, be a local production facility.”

Trevisan said they’d considered several states “but at the end, we chose West Virginia. Mainly, it’s at the center of the Marcellus and Utica shale.”

But in addition to the easy access to customers in the developing Marcellus and Utica shale plays, he also said they’d received “some very interesting support” at the state and county level.

“Our feeling is that we found the right culture, very similar to our culture,” he said. “People are committed, they’re good. To do good business, you need good people first.”

The buildup already has begun: He said several of his colleagues participated in Hackman Capital’s equipment auction Tuesday at the corrugating plant. Los Angeles-based Hackman and the BDC teamed up in November to purchase the 650-acre corrugating property, with Hackman retaining ownership of the equipment left on site and working with local leaders to market the property.

“We are spending money to buy equipment,” Trevisan said.

West Virginia Economic Development Authority Executive Director David A. Warner, on hand for Tuesday’s discussions, sees the international interest as a “very positive” development for the Northern Panhandle.

“This is a very reputable company we’re working with,” Warner said. “They’re a manufacturing company interested in a particular piece of property at the Three Springs Business Park and a product line in the middle of the Marcellus and Utica sale.

Warner credited a “very accommodating and cooperative Business Development Corporation and a very cooperative mayor” with getting the deal done.

“All these things came together, and we’re pretty confident it will lead to success and, hopefully, expansion some day.”

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said it’s been “well over a generation since we’ve seen investment in new manufacturing.” Rather than focus on preserving and expanding existing business, he said they’re looking at bringing in an all new industry, he said.

Since restructuring and redefining its plan four years ago, he said the BDC “has been working with this in mind.”

“And when an opportunity arose with a prospect of this magnitude, we were prepared,” he said.

Trevisan said production could begin late in 2015. Initially, they’ll employ 41 people, but that number will grow as the business grows.

“This is a great cooperative effort between the city, county, state and BDC,” Weirton Mayor George Kondik added. “It’s an honor to have a company of this magnitude coming to our city, let alone the state. It’s one of the first pieces of the puzzle, just the start. We not only have the perfect location, but we have the economic components” they need.