Brodie International, the Statesboro-based manufacturer of flow meters and valves used in the petroleum industry, was saluted Wednesday by World Trade Center Savannah as its 2020 International Business of the Year.
Representatives of Bulloch County, Statesboro, Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College, the state and other organizations joined Brodie International employees on the front lawn of the plant for the ceremony. Social distancing was observed and masks were worn.
The United States’ recent “trade wars,” particularly with China, and the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic present major challenges, Brodie International President Ruppi von Gwinner acknowledged in this remarks. But the company exports its products to industrial customers on all six inhabited continents and has adopted a “lean manufacturing” approach to remain competitive.
“We are present on all continents,” von Gwinner said. “We’re selling to all over the world. The U.S. business is only 50 percent: it changes a little bit every year, but only 50 percent of what we’re doing. Did we not export, if we did not satisfy requirements from international customers, we would not exist.”
Von Gwinner is originally from Germany, but Brodie International is owned by Statesboro-area investors who employ him. As he noted, the manufacturing plant has a long history. The building dates back about 60 years, and in the past the plant employed as many as 900 people at one time. It was owned by a series of large corporations, including Rockwell and Emerson, before becoming an independent company in 2003.
1 plant, world reach
Today Brodie International employs only about 75 people, some of whom have been working at the plant on U.S. Highway 301 North for decades. It is Brodie’s only manufacturing facility, but the company has sales representatives in China, India and the Middle East and one who reaches customers in Africa but is based in Europe.
The company’s continued existence depends on maintaining its place in global competition, and that requires understanding international customers, listening to their differing requirements and readily adapting, von Gwinner said.
“We could not do that without all the employees at Brodie, and I really mean everyone, no matter if they’re in management or if they’re working in the office, if they’re engineers, sales people or purchasing and everybody on the shop floor. …,” he said. “So this award really goes to all the employees.”
Most of the flowmeters Brodie makes are used for measuring delivery of crude oil and refined petroleum products. The company maintains one of the largest flow calibration centers in North America, with accuracy being essential. The meters serve as “the cash registers of the oil industry,” von Gwinner said.
But he talked about the effect on “trade wars” to the crowd during the awards ceremony.
“Speaking of international business, there are things that hurt us,” von Gwinner said. “Trade wars hurt us. You just heard that we depend on international trade.
“If our products are being made much more expensive when they go to a country like China, for example, then we become less competitive and we can sell less,” he continued. “So we are one of those examples of a company in the U.S. that wants to compete, that wants to be open to international markets because that is the key of our survival.”
Just last year, Brodie International sold a large oil measurement system to a Chinese company for $6 million, World Trade Center Savannah stated its press release about the award.
Brodie’s annual revenue is typically in the $15 million to $20 million neighborhood but fluctuates with oil prices. Petroleum companies have more money to invest in equipment when oil prices are higher, von Gwinner explained when interviewed after the ceremony.
Honor and ‘obligation’
Being named the area International Business of the Year is a great honor but also represents an obligation for the company to grow and continue to contribute to the community and economy, he told the crowd.
“We have challenges to overcome that are not easy,” he said.
The pandemic and resulting economic decline continue to hurt sales, and the recovery will take time, he said. But von Gwinner expressed confidence that the company can overcome those challenges with passion and creativity for making better products, with responsiveness to customers and by increasing productivity.
“There’s a process going on here to become more and more a lean manufacturing place, which means that we intelligently organize ourselves in such a way that with every movement that we make we do more, we are just more productive,” he said.
Georgia Southern University is assisting in that effort.
The university’s President Kyle Marrero, who is a World Trade Center Savannah board member but did not vote on the award nominees, presented the artistic crystal trophy. The award is meant “to encourage and recognize corporate leadership for international businesses or trade that advances relations between the U.S. and other nations as well as creates quality jobs here in the U.S.,” he said.
World Trade Center Savannah President and CEO Hugh “Trip” Tollison, who also holds those positions with the Savannah Economic Development Authority, led the ceremony.
But the Development Authority of Bulloch County leadership nominated Brodie International for the award.
“We know that there are businesses throughout the region, not just in Savannah but beyond, who succeed on the international stage, and we appreciate World Trade Center of Savannah for acknowledging their successes,” said Benjy Thompson, Development Authority of Bulloch County CEO.
Past winners include Koyo Bearings, JCB, SNF, Alcoa Forgings and Extrusions, D.J. Powers, Savannah Bee Company, DIRTT Environmental Solutions and Gulfstream Aerospace.
Because he is the Brodie International plant manager, Bulloch County Commissioner Ray Mosley did not have to leave work to attend the ceremony.
“It’s a fantastic day,” he said. “It’s a great team effort, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all the employees here and the community at large. The community has been good to Brodie, and it’s good to have good jobs here in Bulloch County.”
World Trade Center Savannah is one of two centers in Georgia – the other is Atlanta’s – that are part of the World Trade Centers Association global network. The association licenses more than 320 centers in 90 countries to use the World Trade Center name.
The Savannah center offers regional businesses “assistance with any of their international strategies, whether that’s importing or exporting,” said WTC Savannah Vice President Leigh Ryan. Available educational programs include topics such as import and export compliance, and the staff does specific research for companies of all sizes.