The Austrians are coming
Stillwater firm forges alliance with Austrian equipment maker
By Douglas Rooks
Herb sargent has tried to keep it low-key, but his addition of a welding and fabrication building to manufacture steel excavation shovels and attachments has attracted plenty of attention, including a visit from Gov. John Baldacci and prominent coverage in the Bangor Daily News and on local television stations.
The recent 6,000-square-foot addition to Sargent Corporation’s welding and repair operation has created five new jobs, and could produce as many as 20 – an economic boost to the Old Town area at a time when the local news is dominated by downsizings and layoffs at many manufacturers.
Sargent admits that it’s unusual for an excavation contractor to build equipment as well – “I can’t think of another firm like ours that does it” – but he also says it’s a natural outgrowth of his conversations with a long-time supplier, Wimmer Felstechnik GmbH of Austria.
In 2002, Sargent was shopping for the hydraulic couplers that permit easy detachment and connection of excavating attachments, a major time-saver, and found that the Austrian firm offered “the best in the business.”
A few years later, when Sargent reunited his own firm with H.E. Sargent, he began converting all of the equipment for the much larger merged company to Wimmer couplers, a move that wound up making Sargent Corp. its largest North American customer.
In a subsequent visit to Austria, Sargent learned from a Wimmer representative that “they wanted us to try something new.” The proposed venture involved closing Wimmer’s existing shop in Montreal and moving the business to Sargent’s Stillwater operation in Maine. A year ago, the two companies closed the deal. Wimmer also operates production facilities in Salzburg, Austria, and Budweis, Czech Republic.
Sargent said it wasn’t a complicated transaction, and was concluded “almost on the back of a napkin.” When he toured Wimmer’s operation in Salzburg, he found it impressive. That first-hand look encouraged him to pursue a long-term relationship with the Austrian company. In essence, Sargent has reversed its relationship with Wimmer, becoming its North American supplier, instead of solely a buyer.
At this point, orders are modest, in Sargent’s estimation. “We haven’t invested a lot in personnel,” and there other jobs the workers can do when they have downtime, he said.
Still, “the type of people we’re bringing on can be used elsewhere in our operation,” he said, and the technical skills involved benefit the whole company. Sargent Corp. currently employs about 400 people, with annual sales of $90 million.
Sargent says the company’s orders are solid through next year, but he’s always looking for alternatives if business slows. If there are fewer orders for buckets and attachments, for instance, he figures that the same crew can build trench shields widely used by excavating contractors.
At a news conference in April, Old Town Town Manager Peggy Daigle praised Sargent Corp.’s operations. The new manufacturing facility “helps make Sargent more secure and brings jobs and investment to Old Town,” she said.
The Austrian firm is also pleased with the arrangement. Andreas Wimmer, head of the Austrian firm, said that Sargent Corp.’s knowledge of the equipment and how it is used will “ensure that our products are designed, built and improved with real-world application” and Sargent’s excellent reputation in the construction industry means that “we have a partner in the United States whose reputation we can count upon.”