08/11/09 — Triangle Spring to ship first automotive orders soon

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Triangle Spring to ship first automotive orders soon

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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Mike Hamilton, left, and Ryan Liegey move some samples of heavy-duty truck springs that are awaiting testing at the new Triangle Spring operation in Mount Olive. The plant is sharing space with its sister company, IMPulse NC, Inc., on the Old Mount Olive Highway. Triangle, which is scheduled to ship its first order within the next two weeks, currently has 11 employees but is expected to have 102 within three years.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Despite the downturn in the automotive industry, Triangle Spring, Mount Olive's newest industry, is expected to ship its first order within the next two weeks.

Work began in March to retool a large portion of the IMPulse NC building on the Old Mount Olive Highway to house Triangle.

Headquartered in DuBois, Pa., the company makes heavy-duty springs for large trucks and trailers.

IMPulse NC will continue to operate in the building. The two companies are part of the Marmon Group.

Currently, Triangle has 11 employees, eight of whom were hired locally. Another 14 are expected to be hired in November and within three years, the company expects to employee 103.

The company will invest nearly $6.2 million in the operation. Salaries will vary, but the average annual wage will be $30,196, not including benefits, company officials said. That is more than the Wayne County average annual wage of $27,664.

The building is valued at $2.8 million. However, it is hard to put a value on the machinery because it is not new, said Don Moore, company human recourses director, who also holds operational and administrative roles as well. New, it would run roughly $15 million, he said.

Triangle has manufacturing and distribution operations in DuBois and a smaller facility in Punxsutawney, Pa. It also has distribution centers in Oklahoma City, Okla. and Fontana, Calif.

Mount Olive will be the only site making the heavy-duty springs.

Moore said that either he or his boss, Harry Pehote, vice president and general manager of Triangle Springs, will be at the Mount Olive plant at all times.

The company's decision to locate in Mount Olive was announced in September after company officials decided to close a plant in Mexico and move back into the U.S.

"Taking machinery and going to manufacture in the U.S. I think is a good story to talk about," Moore said.

The move to Mount Olive was made possible in part by a $100,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund. The grant requires a $100,000 county match.

"We had equipment down here the last quarter of last year," Moore said. "We started under construction in March, but it took us a little longer than we thought because you get used to digging a hole in Pennsylvania. Here, you hit water, sandy soil so it required more money and more time, but needless to say, we are up to speed.

"We have our first order to be rolled out this week if everything works well. Let's say a couple of weeks, and that is to a customer in Mexico."

Moore said Triangle officials have been pleased by the number of companies interested in its products.

"I am not at liberty to talk about the names of the companies, but a very large company in Germany has talked to us and is interested," he said. "Also people are finding out about us and calling us and saying, 'please come and talk to us' which is a good thing versus trying to establish ourselves. People have heard about us and want us to talk to them. That is a good thing from a domestic market."

Moore estimates that Triangle will completely occupy the building within three years employing 103 people over three shifts. IMPulse NC officials have said their company could move to a smaller facility.

When asked if the company has been affected by the downturn in automotive industry, Moore responded, "Absolutely. We have companies that specifically look at the market and tell us that there are a number of fleets that have simply parked their fleets (trucks and trailers).

"And when repairs are needed they are just taking parts from the ones sitting out back so certainly business is off. We have felt that. We don't know if we have reached the bottom of that, who knows where the bottom will be, but one thing as we get this site up to speed when that turnaround comes we will be ready. The after-market is down and what happens is people aren't buying trucks so OEMs have parts like we do so they start creeping back into the after-market to sell their products."

But he called the situation a chance to improve business.

"How big an opportunity is anybody's guess, but we have some professional opinions that tell us we will have an opportunity once it (economy) comes back. You believe there is market and you make plans according, you are either ahead of the market or you are trying to catch up."

Moore said the company's 11 employees are following the product through the plant. As the employees develop their skill sets some may decide they would like to work in particular portion of the plant, he said.

"Right now we want to cross train," he said. "We anticipate 31 or 32 per shift."

It takes about six months for new employees to "get up to speed," he said. The plant will operate on a four-day week with 10-hour shifts.

Triangle will be the only U.S. company making the heavy-duty springs said Jack Griffin, sales engineer and director product development.

It will have "one big competitor" in Canada and some in Europe.

However, Moore noted that the European truck market is markedly different with smaller vehicles and nothing like the larger trucks in the U.S.

The company is expected to turn out about 2,000 products per week.

"We are excited about being in this location," Moore said. "We were purposely looking in the south for this facility -- Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina as well as Louisiana. It gives us a presence in the South. It helps with distribution to the trucking network to be able be closer to the market."