By Valerie Baldowksi
A manufacturing facility in Hampton received some close scrutiny from a high-profile state leader on Friday.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle visited Southern States, LLC, and toured its production facilities.
Cagle, the Republican incumbent, is running for re-election as lieutenant governor. His opponents in the race are Democrats Tricia Carpenter McCracken, a journalist/researcher, and Carol Porter, a publishing company general manager.
Southern States, which has been in Hampton since 1940, manufactures fuses and high-voltage electrical switches for power substations. Some of its customers include Cinergy, Southern Company, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Texas Utilities, Georgia Transmission, Nevada Power, Dominion Virginia Power, San Diego Gas and Electric, and ITC, Michigan.
The Hampton company stands out from others in the industry, Cagle said after the tour. "My takeaway of the success of Southern States is that they have continued to invest in innovation, and they've been able to see where the market is going and anticipate that, before it emerges," he said.
Cagle said Southern States' willingness to use the latest technology to make its products was what brought him to Henry County to tour the facility. "This is a company that has had a long, long history here in Georgia, and it has really embraced technology," said Cagle. "It has been recognized by the industry as a real pioneer.
"For me, this is one of the companies that have weathered the economic downturn better than most," he added. "For us, it was an opportunity to learn more about a great Georgia company, meet many of the employees and see how they're doing from an innovation standpoint, in their core business, and where they're headed in the future, and ways in which I, as lieutenant governor in the state of Georgia, can assist them in any way."
The company caters to a specific niche in the electrical utilities industry, said Marlin Gilbert, company vice president of human resources and community relations.
"Our business is primarily in the U.S. and Canada, [that] is where we ship switches we make in this particular plant," said Gilbert. "The switches are pretty much made to the customers' specifications, so it's not like a high-volume assembly line, by any stretch."
The company employs a work force of 340, and has a strong economic impact on the local economy, he continued. Its annual employee payroll is $17 million, and despite rough economic times, the company has been able to avoid layoffs, said Gilbert.
"We, as a management team, think it is our responsibility to provide steady employment to our people," said Company President and Chief Executive Officer Raj Anand. "We invest so much in training, and getting the right people, and it takes a lot of energy and effort on our part to get them to a point where they're really productive, so to lose someone is almost like losing a limb."
Cagle said the dollars the company spends developing new products is significant.
"The amount of money which they're spending with R&D [research and development] clearly has distinguished them," he said. "They're about bringing solutions to the sector they compete in. That, I think, is very unique."
Southern States spends between $2 million and $4 million annually on R&D, said Anand.
Anand, who has led the company since 1996, has seen it grow significantly since he took the helm. "As a group, we are close to 10 times the size that we started," he said. "This includes the European operations."
Southern States also has "sister" companies in Venice, Italy, Livorno, Italy, and Lyon France, said Anand. The key to the company's continued success is its employees, he added. "I think the secret really is both the talent that's here, and our ability to attract talented people that help grow the company."
Anand said he was glad Cagle visited the company. "We appreciate it. It was good that he did come, because we are in a very important sector of the economy, which is electrical power," said Anand. "There is a company right here in Hampton that is deeply involved in the sector."
Cagle began his visit by meeting with the CEO and the vice president, along with a number of other department heads. Anand gave Cagle a brief presentation to provide an overview of the company, and explained what Southern States produces.
"If you go to an electric company and say 'Southern States in Hampton,' they'll know who we are," Anand told Cagle. "About one-third, or 40 percent, of switching equipment in the United States is made here. When you drive by a substation anywhere in the U.S., even Canada, for that matter, also Mexico, before NAFTA, more likely than not, you're going to see one of these switches up there."