Global firm to open North American headquarters at BTR Park

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A global firm, headquartered in Italy, has opened an office in the Western Michigan University Business Technology and Research Park, making it the first company to use the park to establish a North American presence.

FAiST Light Metals

FAiST Light Metals opened its sales and engineering office for North America May 1 in the BTR Park's Weidenhammer Building. The company specializes in high-quality aluminum die casting, precision machining and surface plating of components and assemblies for the telecom, automotive, electronics and industrial markets.

Company officials have been preparing for the launch of the new location with a hiring initiative to identify both new engineering staff and WMU interns to work in the company that already has a strong product presence in the telecommunication and automotive industries. Major customers include Ericsson, Eaton, Borg Warner and Brose.

Directing the new Kalamazoo office is Jeff McCain, business development manager for FAiST Light Metals North America, who was recruited a year ago specifically to develop a presence in North America for the company. FAiST Light Metals has its headquarters in Citta DiCastello, Italy, about an hour south of Florence. The company is a division of FAiST Industrial Group, a multinational manufacturing firm based in the United Kingdom.

McCain says the company already has established a reputation for working with U.S. companies to bring client engineering teams into the development and design process for products FAiST will ultimately produce.

"Typically, we will work with product engineers who don't have extensive die casting experience," McCain says. "We develop a relationship with the key customers and even do customized, on-site training so the engineering team has a better idea of the process to apply. Working together, we are able to design some of the costs out of a product and streamline the development process."

McCain says the components developed through that design process are made in China, Mexico, Romania, or Germany and shipped globally to use in the final products. One recent initiative with Eaton, he notes, took significant lead time out of the development process.

A 'strong international experience'

McCain, a WMU alumnus, was working in China when he first met the FAiST company president. He found the international perspective of the firm appealing, noting that "from the top down, we think and act globally." In addition to the current locations, the company just completed an acquisition of a tooling company in Italy and is evaluating expanding to manufacturing locations in the United States, South America and India.

That global perspective, he says, is one major benefit those he's now recruiting will enjoy. The company's global head of engineering was in Kalamazoo in April to interview candidates for initial hires in engineering and to meet with WMU engineering faculty as well as students from a number of disciplines.

"We're looking at immediate full-time hires as well as interns who could later become regular employees," McCain says. "There will be an opportunity for both to have a strong international experience."

"Our vision is that within the first year, we'll have a staff of five to six professionals, and in three or four years, we will have a strong core group focused both on sales and engineering," McCain says.

The 1,000 square feet of space FAiST is leasing in the Weidenhammer Building come with an option on additional space for the company to fill as it grows. According to Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach and BTR Park point person, the leased space is one that has opened up in an existing facility in a park that is now full and looking toward expansion in a nearby parcel of land already designated for that use.

"All of the space for building is committed," Miller notes. "Right now, and until we can expand, we'll focus on those spaces that occasionally open up in multi-tenant facilities.

Miller notes FAiST is the type of firm the park was designed for—one that fits into the park's profile and one that plans to be actively engaged with the University's academic programs and students.

"Our focus is on companies in the life sciences, advanced engineering and information technology," Miller says. "We've built an environment in which there's a real sense of synergy between our more than 40 park business partners and the University's academic mission."

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