WALKER — Since relocating its headquarters to West Michigan in 2015, Plasan North America Inc. has moved closer to its customers, added hundreds of jobs and expanded its facilities.
By Frank Wash’s estimates, buildings once left vacant because of the 2008 recession are now “filling up” because of Plasan.
“It’s good to have a cutting-edge set of companies in Walker,” said Wash, assistant city manager and community development director for Walker. “It’s part of the diversification of Walker’s employment base. Whether it’s automotive or defense, (the move) seems to be working well.”
For Plasan, a manufacturer of ballistic armor, composite structures and other protection systems primarily for land vehicles used by government agencies, the move to Walker meant the company could expand its capabilities and deliver more services to clients, CEO Adrienne Stevens told MiBiz.
Currently, the company has three facilities in Walker at the north end of Wilson Drive, including its Plasan Carbon Composites division, a supplier of hoods, roofs and other components for the automotive industry, including for the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
“We basically came to Michigan with one customer and one specific program and we’ve got more than a dozen programs that are in work today, and many new programs and opportunities in the pipeline,” Stevens said. “The move is paying off great by having a U.S. presence, really.”
By relocating to Walker from Bennington, Vt., Plasan’s been able to grow through multiple investments. For example, the company recently purchased a $2 million metal fabrication facility and a 660-ton press break.
According to Stevens, the equipment and facilities allow the company to supply systems for more than 30,000 vehicles globally that are outfitted with Plasan’s “armor and technology,” making the company a “one-stop, full-service shop” for its customers.
“(The expansion) is enabling the business to grow, as it reduces costs, improves efficiency and (now) we have the ability to control and respond quickly,” Stevens said.
In addition to its expansion, Plasan recently landed one of its largest programs to date in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The program is “an Army-led, joint modernization program designed to replace a portion of Army and Marine Corps light tactical wheeled vehicle fleets while closing an existing gap in payload, performance and protection,” according to Stevens.
The contract is Plasan’s largest vehicle program for the U.S. Armed Forces, she added.
ROOM FOR GROWTH
With the federal government increasing its spending on defense programs, companies like Plasan are looking to capitalize on new growth opportunities.
According to national reports, the Trump administration will invest $716 billion into its military defense budget by 2019, an increase of $82 billion from 2017. The additional spending leaves the door open to more expansion for Plasan, a manufacturer that produces more than 6,500 armor components a month.
“There’s a whole lot of activity that’s occurring, and of course our biggest asset that our U.S. Army has is our troops,” Stevens said. “It becomes imperative that our troops be protected with products (that we make).”
Despite an increase in spending, PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that “there are many uncertainties surrounding how that money will be spent,” including the style of programs the government may initiate — from traditional longterm weapons development systems to creative technology solutions.
The report notes that executives at defense companies must “confront” change in how they make decisions with capital expenditures and research and development spending by adopting less risk averse approaches.
“Accept uncertainty as part of the normal course of business; view it as an opportunity, not a danger,” according to the report.
With roughly 500 employees at its West Michigan campus, Plasan is looking to expand its offerings in the commercial segment. In part, that’s because West Michigan is just a few hours away from “everything,” Stevens said, including the automotive OEMs, Oshkosh Corp., Navistar, BAE and AM General.
“We don’t just sell to defense customers — we’re pursuing the commercial market also, so we can do work for commercial automotive, agriculture and other suppliers,” Stevens added, noting the company specializes in “customer-defined build-to-print armor and metal fabrication.”
In the next few years, Plasan aims to split its business evenly between the commercial and defense segments.
“West Michigan is really a fantastic location to be,” Stevens said. “Customers can come see our facilities, and we can be face to face in developing programs, developing relationships. It shows our investment in them by being close to them.”