Business is good at Brugg Cables, 25 Anderson Road. After a brief slump in 2010, General Manager Karl Zimmerman said the company is on target to churn out the largest volume of optical ground wire cable since production started at the plant in 1999.
Things started looking better late in 2010 when corporate executives in Switzerland put another expansion of the Brugg Cables facility on the drawing board. Fast forward 11 months and ground has been broken for the addition, and if all goes according to Zimmerman’s plans the first equipment is scheduled to be installed in March 2012.
Brugg Cables is part of a family of businesses based in Switzerland. It is one of four Otto Suhner-controlled businesses in Rome, along with Suhner Manufacturing, Brugg Wire Rope and Brugg Pipesystems.
Suhner and Brugg Cables are located adjacent to each other on a 25-acre campus on Anderson Road off U.S. 411 South, while Brugg Pipesystems and Brugg Wire Rope are located in Gateway Industrial Park, 1801 Parrish Drive, about a mile farther south off U.S. 411.
Brugg Cables makes a fiber optic ground wire cable that is used in aerial applications. Its customers typically include major utilities.
Suhner actually owns all of the property at the 25-acre site on Anderson Road and is building the 10,000-square-foot, $873,000 addition to the Brugg Cables plant.
Paul Luthi, president of Suhner Manufacturing, explained the company takes advantages of synergies in the multiple companies. “We only have one accounting department and one computer system and so on, which really serves us well,” Luthi said.
The Rome headquarters also handles all of the accounting for Brugg Wire Rope’s new plant in Algodones, N.M.
Brugg Cables originally had a sales office in Houston, Texas.
“Eventually they needed to get into production and Mr. Suhner had always liked Rome, Ga., so he basically told them you move from Houston to Rome,” said Luthi.
The first production rolled off machinery in Rome in 1999, and the company has been growing at a steady pace ever since.
Zimmerman said there is only one other manufacturer of the type of cable Brugg produces in the United States.
“We are increasing the production area three fold from 5,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet, and we are investing in two very important machines,” Zimmerman said. “We will be more than doubling our production capacity.”
This year that is expected to amount to 3 million linear feet of cable.
“So far it’s been a very successful year for us. We are on track to manufacture more cable in a year than ever before,” Zimmerman said.
Plant Manager John Lang pointed out that every run of cable is custom made to meet the needs of the customer.
Brugg’s investment in equipment alone for the expansion will reach almost $5 million.
One of the new machines will be a state-of-the-art stranding machine, which twists the various cables into a strong wire. The second machine will be making a component of the cable, which Brugg currently imports from Switzerland. Luthi said importing components is not very economical now.
Luthi, who in addition to serving as president of Suhner Manufacturing doubles as president of Brugg North America, said corporate executives in Switzerland have made a commitment to increasing their market share in the United States. “We are relatively small in the U.S. compared to the overall size of the company,” Luthi said. “In Europe they are well known, big, they are also bigger in China than in the U.S.”
At this time the currency exchange is favorable for investments in this country, and the Brugg Group really want to develop a stronger foothold here.
What makes the Brugg expansion in Rome, and recently in New Mexico, intriguing is that the company is doing it all without any kind of financial assistance from local development groups — no bond issues, no tax abatements.
The company is privately financed in its entirety.
“We want to be debt free. When we went through the recession he (Otto Suhner) was standing in front of everybody smiling,” Luthi said.
Zimmerman said plans for the current expansion have been on the books since December of 2010 but have been on the front of his mind for several years. The Brugg Group has traditionally been extremely conservative.
“We want to be on sure footing and we want to go up and not down,” Luthi said. “We are not known for hiring 40 people this week and laying off 30 people next week. We don’t like to do that. We have very steady employment.”
Zimmerman said the expansion should mean at least five new jobs.
“That may not sound like a lot, but I have 15 here now, so adding five, that’s a 33-percent increase,” Zimmerman said.
It takes six months to a year to hire new employees and get them to the point that they are comfortable on the production line.
Luthi said that if the customer wanted five miles of cable and after three miles there is a break; they have to stop the run and start over again. No slices are allowed.
“You need operators that are reliable and watch the machine, they have to be there and watch things not to have incidents, through negligence or whatever, it can cause a lot of damage,” Luthi said.
The employees, though not massive in number, are the backbone of the company. Zimmerman said he had to cut from three shifts to just one at one point last year. He made this adjustment without laying off anyone.
“We take a long-term approach to business and have a good relationship with our vendors, our customers and our employees,” Zimmerman said. “We look out for our employees.”
It’s a recipe for success that Brugg has enjoyed since 1896, and one which Zimmerman hopes will continue to cook up growth at the Rome facility for many years to come.