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STANDFIRST: A historic Birmingham firm has secured local jobs with a new home in the city.

Finding inner-city premises for any manufacturer in the 21st century isn’t easy, so identifying a suitable site for a firm with consent to store and handle hazardous chemicals is much more so.

However, thanks to the expertise of Birmingham-based building consultancy, Fusion - and the financial commitment of Advantage West Midlands - the former W Canning activity is staying in the city where it was founded in 1785.

Work is well underway on a five-acre brownfield site in Small Heath, to create an 83,000 sq ft research and manufacturing base for the famous company; now owned by US conglomerate MacDermid Inc.

All 100 existing jobs will be preserved by the relocation from its present Bordesley site and, despite the ongoing economic volatility, the workforce is expected to expand after the move, which is on course for summer 2009.

MacDermid’s UK managing director, Lance Phasey, says the firm’s US parent also wants to make the new location - in the intriguingly-named Golden Hillock Road - into an international showcase for its products and services.

“MacDermid was formed in 1922, by a Scottish engineer who had emigrated to Connecticut, and now operates in more than 20 countries,” he says.

“The move has given us the opportunity to base our global R&D and Marketing operation here, and now ‘Clan MacDermid’ wants to make us into a shop window for the world.”

It’s a happy ending to a long saga over a new site for MacDermid, as Fusion director Steven Jelfs explains.

“The former Bordesley plant was located within the area designated as Eastside, Europe’s largest urban regeneration scheme , and it took many months and much negotiation to agree that the company would look for a new site and relocate by 2009.

Phasey says the current city council, and its Locate in Birmingham arm, have both been very helpful in the firm’s attempts to find suitable premises.

However, the final link in the chain has undoubtedly been provided by Jelfs and the Fusion team, who have been advising MacDermid for the last year.

“We didn’t want to leave Birmingham, as it was unlikely that our entire skilled workforce would be able to relocate with us. We did consider Redditch, but when we heard about the Small Heath site, it sounded ideal,” he recalls.

“We knew AWM had bought the site for employment purposes, but when we saw the old BSA factory and realised how much work was needed, we did start to think again.

“However, Steven and his colleagues were able to come up with various ideas as to how we could make the place suitable, such as where the new laboratories could go, how the drainage could be improved, and how the appearance of the building could be transformed.”

The scale and complexity of the refurbishment, and the associated building work, inevitably caused moments of uncertainty along the way though.

“I have to say we were pretty impressed by Fusion, and their ideas. They put up with us changing our minds several times during the process, and were certainly more patient than I’d have been,” admits Phasey.

Jelfs is naturally pleased that a famous Birmingham firm has been able to stay in the city, and retain its highly-skilled workforce.

He’s equally delighted that a long and complex relocation project is on schedule, and within budget.

“The BSA factory had only been built in the early 1980s, but it had just about every problem you could think of, including complex and damaged drainage systems. We took the whole of the front façade down, then re-clad it, and all the architectural and design work was done in-house,” he says.

“A sophisticated safety report also has to be written because the site will have COMAH status without which they could not operate from Small Heath.”

Buying the Small Heath site represented a £3 million investment for AWM, so its head of asset management, Steve Holland, was understandably content that a suitable business had been found with relative ease.

“We were short of employment space in this regeneration zone, and took the chance to buy five acres of land. The BSA factory was tired industrial space from the 80s, whereas now we have a good quality plant here, and the move has also freed up expansion land for Eastside,” he says.

“We gave MacDermid a rent-free period to account for the cost of the fit-out, and now they have signed a 25-year lease, which is a measure of their commitment to Birmingham. All round, everyone is very pleased by this outcome.”


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