Fori expansion inspires Macomb program to grow second-stage companies
Shelby Township-based Fori Automation Inc. isn't technically a second-stage company anymore, but its recent $1 million expansion and commitment to add up to 50 local jobs make it the poster child for a new Macomb County program targeting that business category.
Fori recently finished the addition of an 18,000-square-foot building at its headquarters campus on Wing Drive to house and test large-scale load-moving equipment for its growing base of non-automotive manufacturing customers.
Fori, a designer and manufacturer of assembly, testing and welding equipment traditionally used by automakers, has hired 54 new employees since 2009. It will add 50 more within five years as it continues to diversify, said Mike Beck, Fori vice president of global operations.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel last week at Fori announced the county's new Home in Macomb Business Retention Program, launched over the summer under a reorganization within the county's Planning and Economic Development Department.
Three of the county's five economic development professionals will be devoted full time to retention and growth or economic "gardening" initiatives within the county under the new initiative, said Planning and Economic Development Director Stephen Cassin. A fourth retention professional could be added to the department soon.
"Fori is one kind of success we know of out there that we're looking for in this initiative. And our response has been very positive out there from businesses where we make inquiries," Cassin said.
An initial focus of the program will be on second-stage companies with revenue of $1 million or more and nine or more employees, with plans to grow, since this business category has the greatest potential to create new sustainable jobs, Cassin said.
Fori employs about 450 people worldwide, including 180 in Macomb County, and Beck estimates the company will finish 2012 with about $120 million in revenue, with 15 percent to 20 percent coming from nonautomotive customers, compared with 5 percent to 7 percent of revenue in 2009 when revenue was around $92 million.
In 2010, Fori received a contract from Lockheed Martin Corp. to manufacture automated guided vehicles to transport aircraft assemblies between stages of the assembly process.
"It (the new building) is a standalone structure with a specialty design to support some of our non-automotive, larger jobs," Beck said. "It will support our growth and make us more versatile, since it includes an 80-foot-wide (interior) without a support column, which allows you to do the AGV capability, and has an extra-thick concrete floor for support."
Fori's expansion qualified for assistance from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Shelby Township to help grow and add local jobs rather than relocate outside the county.
The company already has more than a dozen immediate openings for the 50 planned positions in Shelby Township, Beck said, including three engineering openings each in mechanical design in software developing, plus one apiece in accounting, sales and estimating, and for a technical build leader.
"Mark (Hackel) has always said we can't ignore our existing companies, and we did some research and most growth comes within," Cassin said. "For every new company transplant you land from Europe, there are five or six companies here also building out or adding jobs."
Macomb is home to nearly 18,000 businesses that account for more than 287,000 of its more than 360,000 jobs, according to its data. The county does not break out employees by business category, but the Cassopolis-based Edward Lowe Foundation estimates more than 4,500 second-stage companies accounted for more than 107,000 jobs or more than 35 percent of all private-sector employment in Macomb during 2009.
The new Fori building will house its automated guided vehicle, an assembly-line tool that allows some aerospace, defense and agricultural implement manufacturer customers to move heavy equipment, such as a tractor or airplane fuselage, from station to station during production.
Other Fori Automation locations are in Tennessee, Korea, China, India, Germany, Brazil and Mexico.
Chad Halcom: (313) 446-6796, email@example.com. Twitter: @chadhalcom