Brodie International is a Statesboro-based manufacturer with local owners, but with a sales office in Beijing and customers in the petroleum industry around the world.
"We export worldwide," said Johnny Parrish, Brodie International's vice president of engineering and operations. "China is a very good market for us, so we have a sales office there, but probably 40 to 45 percent of our business is export."
Over the years, most of the demand for Brodie's meters and valves has been on the fuel distribution end of the industry. But the boom in crude-oil pumping in recent years, including the opening of new U.S. fields enabled by hydraulic fracturing, has provided additional customers.
"We're seeing more business in the crude-oil side," Parrish said. "Before, we focused, or had more business, in the refined products. ... And we've made some changes to our standard meter to accommodate the crude."
The crude-oil versions have slightly different tolerances than those for handling refined fuels.
BiRotor flow meters, descendants of the original BiRotor meter developed by industry pioneer Ralph Brodie in California in 1948, remain the company's mainstay.
The BiRotor Plus meter, designed in Statesboro in the late 1990s, is "probably the most accurate meter in the world," Parrish said. The company is currently developing a BiRotor Plus meter in a new size, as well as a new size of valve.
To market these devices internationally, the company must obtain certifications from various countries, paralleling the Underwriters Laboratories and National Type Evaluation Program approvals in the United States.
"We have approvals all over the world," Parrish said.
Brodie's Beijing sales office has four employees, all Chinese. Managers and engineers from the Statesboro headquarters also make periodic visits to China, meeting with parts suppliers and quality approval organizations as well as customers. Parrish has been about half a dozen times, visiting some facilities that seemed behind the times, but also seeing Chinese industry striding forward.
"There's a lot of new stuff going on in China," he said. "They're expanding their pipelines."
Brodie exports products to other Asian nations, such as South Korea and Indonesia, to Russia, and to countries in the Middle East and Latin America.
Besides maintaining the Beijing office, the company has recently hired the former owner of a German company to market Brodie's products in other regions of the world.
Among the company's 80 or so employees, Parrish is one of a core group who has worked at the plant far longer than it has been Brodie. He and company president Thomas F. Clark are the two members of the workforce who also are part owners in the company.
Built in 1956 by Rockwell Manufacturing Co., the factory in the 1960s employed nearly 10 times as many people as it does now. But that was before automation in machine tools reduced the amount of labor required to make meters and valves and before some product lines were moved to other facilities.
Emerson Electric Co. bought the plant in 1970, making it a part of Brooks Instrument, then a Pennsylvania-based division of Emerson. In the 70s, the plant still employed perhaps 400 or more people, Parrish recalls.
But Emerson moved its magnetic flow meter line to Mexico in the late 1990s, with other product lines following. The Statesboro plant was down to about 125 employees by the time Emerson was ready to sell it or close it in the early 2000s.
Independent since 2003
Four investors, including Clark and Parrish, signed a deal to purchase the plant from Emerson Electric on Feb. 19, 2003. Using the Brodie name, they continued the plant in operation with 56 employees at first.
The two other original investors later sold their shares, but Clark and Parrish remain part of the current ownership group.
Both Brodie International Export Company Co. and Brodie Meter LLC are shown in Georgia corporate records as Statesboro-based companies, and the corporate website identifies Statesboro as world headquarters.
For the past several years, Brodie has maintained its workforce at around 80 employees. In 2014, the plant added five employees in addition to hiring one replacement, Parrish said.
The additions allow the company to have trained people already building their experience as some of those long-term employees retire.
"We've got a mature workforce, so what we're trying to do is bring some younger folks in and - you know, this is a job you don't learn overnight - so its gives them a chance to learn," Parrish said.
But, typical of Brodie International's relationship with its employees, the company is not asking anyone to retire.
"We've got quite a few people that are over 65 years old with us still working, and as long as they're able, we encourage them to work," Parrish said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.