Who says it's not a good time to be in manufacturing? Or to start your own business? Three executives with experience at large aluminum producers say it's the best of times for both. They are celebrating the opening of their 77,000-square-foot aluminum extrusion plant in Prince George County, Va., this month. The former home of Reynolds Metals Co., Prince George County was the perfect choice for the company because of its "pro-business environment," logistics access, and supply of skilled and unskilled labor, states Lloyd S. "Chip" Dollins, vice president of operations for Service Center Metals (SCM). Additionally, consolidation in the aluminum industry makes now the perfect time to jump in as a smaller, niche player. "We think of ourselves as the Southwest Airlines of the aluminum industry," says Dollins, a former Reynolds executive and Six Sigma consultant. "The big players will always be there, but there will be a place for us as well." SCM will supply extruded aluminum shapes exclusively to aluminum service centers, which resell products to manufacturers. For now, the company will operate solely in the United States. Dollins says supplying to the service centers, as opposed to directly to manufacturers, is a smart move because the market is growing and features customers from a variety of industries -- a plus if there's a significant downturn in one major industry. Dollins declined to discuss anticipated output but did say the company already has customer orders. SCM invested a total of $13 million in the company's new site. The plant, in the SouthPoint Industrial Park, initially will employ 45 people, but Dollins says the plant will be expanded, possibly doubling in size and workforce in two to three years. To compete with larger companies on cost, SCM will employ lean production practices such as small batches and quick changeovers, and elements of Six Sigma. In addition to Dollins, company founders include R. Scott Kelley, president and CEO, formerly of Reynolds and of Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp.; and R. Randolph Weis, vice president of sales and marketing, formerly of Reynolds, Cressona Aluminum, Alumax Distribution and Industrial Products and Alcoa Engineered Products. Dollins says the three chose to set up shop in Prince George County because the company's logistics will be truck-based, and the community is easily accessible from three major highways. In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia's Small Business Financing Authority loaned SCM $1 million for equipment purchases, and SouthPoint is an enterprise zone, which offers certain tax advantages. What's more, workers displaced as a result of Alcoa Inc.'s 2000 acquisition of Reynolds provided an easily tapped workforce. Locations profiles selected siting and facility strategies by manufacturing companies. Send submissions to Senior Editor John S. McClenahen at [email protected].