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Plant closure in works for two years won

Maxxim Medical stays in Columbus

COLUMBUS — The first clue that Maxxim Medical might not close its Columbus plant after all came when the company spent several hundred thousand dollars to upgrade its cobalt sterilization equipment.

“It was a hint they weren’t ready to leave because that’s quite an investment,” said Columbus Mayor Jeffrey Rupp. “We were obviously very glad to hear it.”

In 2000, Maxxim Medical Inc., makers of specialty medical products for operating rooms, surgery centers, cardiac catheterization labs and interventional radiology centers, had announced the company would shut down operations at its Columbus plant this year and move its business to Mexico.

“We were dreading the day it would close, because it would have affected 160 workers,” said Charleigh Ford, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Economic Development Association (CLEDA). “That they’re not going to close is really, really good news.”

The decision to close the company’s plant in Asheville, N.C., instead of the Columbus plant, which produces approximately $25 million in products annually, came after a change in corporate management in September 2001, said Steve Hollis, business unit manager for Maxxim Medical in Columbus.

“A team of people who had assumed the role of corporate management in July 2000 had come from the automotive industry,” Hollis said. “They were very familiar with Mexico and just decided suddenly, without getting a grasp of what the business entailed, to shut this facility down and go there. Along the time the closure was announced, it seemed to us there was no strategy in place. We offered an alternative strategy — to move some product from our Asheville plant.”

Hollis, who was also in charge of the North Carolina facility, which was mostly automated, knew there were redundancies at both plants. He recommended moving the manufacture of surgical drapes, which are labor intensive, to the Dominican Republic plant and continuing the production of surgical packs, a low-labor assembly operation of different components packaged, sealed and sterilized, at the Columbus plant. Also, a new line of drapes will be produced in Columbus.

All three plants fall under the company’s surgical division, which churns out more than half of sales, roughly $350 million in 2001, in custom-assembled procedure trays and infection-control apparel, such as drapes and gowns. Last year, Maxxim Medical, which also has a medical division that produces biosafety and surgical and examination gloves, reported more than $500 million in sales. The private company employs more than 3,000 workers.

“Most of our work was automated, but the folding of drapes and gowns was done by hand, so it made sense to send that work to the Dominican Republic plant,” said Hollis.

Last June, Russell D. Hays, a 35-year medical product industry veteran and former CEO of medical and hospital supply companies, was hired as CEO, vice chairman and board member of Maxxim Medical.

“The new management team realized the importance of our operation,” said Hollis. “Plus, CLEDA worked with us during the entire process to try to incent us to stay. They did some roadwork through state grants and the state offered some low interest loans, if needed, along with a grant to help facilitate some capital expenditure projects.”

An added bonus: when operations at the Asheville plant shut down in September, 25 to 50 new jobs will be created at the Columbus plant, Hollis said.

“I think Maxxim’s decision to keep the Columbus plant open shows faith in our community and our people and tells us that, more importantly, we can compete with the plants overseas,” said Rupp.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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