Wales -- America's Gateway To Europe And Beyond

Aug. 3, 2007
U.S. manufacturers invest and reinvest in their Welsh operations.

The European market is the second largest in the world, and for many American businesses, it is also the key to breaking into markets in the Middle East, Africa and East Asia. Due to its location between the U.S. and continental Europe, Wales is a natural gateway into Europe and beyond, as several American investments in the country have recently shown.

An integral part of the UK, Wales is under two hours from Heathrow, and a network of new roads and railways connect it directly to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. Cardiff International Airport in the capital city is a short hop to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Dublin, and from there to Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva and the rest of the EU.

Businesses relocating and expanding in Wales are not only attracted by the size of the UK market and easy access to Europe. They come to Wales for the experienced, educated and dedicated work force, the proactive government support and a solid educational infrastructure that nourishes industry.

For example, take Aviza Technology Inc., a semiconductor capital equipment manufacturer based in Scotts Valley, Calif., which acquired Trikon Technology of Newport, Wales in 2005. Since then, Aviza has moved a significant chunk of its manufacturing operations to Newport.

John Villadsen, vice president of worldwide operations for Aviza, pinpoints location as one of the main reasons for the company's investment in Wales. "Our business is global and that means being located close to our customer base in the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as having the ability to easily travel to customers around the world," he said.

"The Newport site has been an established facility, and the work force there is extremely talented, hard working and dedicated," Villadsen said. "The facility develops and manufactures some of Aviza's key products, specifically those based on our single-wafer platform."

"The development work and manufacturing in Newport complements what's being done here at our headquarters in Scott Valley," he added. "For example, we recently transferred the manufacturing of one of our newer single-wafer products from Scotts Valley to Newport because of the expertise in building these types of systems."

Quality Work Force A Key

With a work force of 1.3 million, Wales is a country rich in talent. The country has 13 universities or colleges and 25 institutions for further education in various fields. Cardiff Business School and the many Centres of Excellence are ranked among the best in Europe, and Swansea University is a leading research center in semiconductors, computing and telecommunications technology.

The wealth of local talent also influenced Gen-Probe, a developer and manufacturer of diagnostic tests based in San Diego, Calif., in its decision to buy Molecular Light Technology Limited (MLT,) a Cardiff-based biotechnology company, in 2003. MLT's research and development team is responsible for 15 patents. Its chemiluminescent diagnostic technologies are incorporated into products distributed worldwide, and used in 80% of all U.S. blood bank testing for HIV and hepatitis C. In addition to R&D, the company's Cardiff center is now being expanded into a manufacturing operation serving the UK and European markets.

In an entirely different field, G24i, manufacturer of leading-edge photovoltaic products, has opened a plant in Cardiff. Founder and Chairman Robert Hertzberg, former speaker of the California State Assembly, noted the access to resources at Cardiff University, a leader in alternative energy research, as an attraction and opportunity for G24i. The company is also setting up a training center in the newest photovoltaic technology. "We hope students at Cardiff University will be able to go and learn there -- it will bring a whole new green movement to the people of Wales," Hertzberg said.

Another company that has made a significant investment in Wales is International Rectifier Inc. (IR,) a leading supplier of power management semiconductors based in El Segundo, Calif. IR has poured $125 million into a plant in Newport, and has increased employment to 600 people from 260 since 2002. The Newport plant -- recipient of multiple awards for its environmental efficiency -- delivers to IR's customers around the world, and is the company's most advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility.

Incubators Nourish R&D

The Manufacturing Engineering Centre at Cardiff University provides cutting edge research in manufacturing techniques and product development to international and local companies. The Engineering Centre for Manufacturing and Materials in Swansea is a business incubator, research center and home to TWI, an internationally recognized expert dedicated to non-destructive testing of materials. The Performance Engineering Technium, also in Swansea, is part of a national network of government sponsored business incubators supporting various industries including electronics, optoelectronics, aviation and automotive.

Financial Assistance In Many Packages

Government financial assistance is available in a variety of packages to help businesses set up in Wales. International Business Wales, the economic development and trade agency of the Welsh government, offers moving assistance and integration services unmatched by other economic development agencies.

The Welsh Incentive Strategic Partnership (WISP), an initiative of the Welsh government, was set up to assist companies with finding office and manufacturing space suited to their operation. WISP is expected to produce more than 1 million square feet of new office space in Wales, with investment totaling a possible $360 million over the life of the program.

The Welsh government has assisted Aviza, International Rectifier, and G24i, to name but a few. IR executives testify to the close working relationship with Rhodri Morgan, First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government. G24i received assistance from the government with finding a plant in Cardiff. "We are coming to Europe -- coming to Wales -- to send the message that we don't have to give up to China, that we can do great things here," said Chairman Robert Hertzberg.

Putting It All Together

The advantages that Wales offers manufacturers -- government support, a high quality work force and a creative university infrastructure -- are all evident in the history of Ford's plant in Bridgend in south Wales. Ford executives consistently praise Bridgend as one of the most efficient in its worldwide manufacturing chain. During the 30 years that Ford has been in Wales, it has invested more than one billion dollars in Bridgend, which produces more than one million engines annually.

The Welsh government has assisted Ford throughout its tenure in Wales -- the former economic development minister worked in the plant in his younger days. Management and union officials have cooperated closely to make Bridgend a flexible, successful operation. Ford researchers along with scientists from the University of Wales and researchers from Raytheon, have developed software to spot flaws in electrical systems of cars and aircraft.

Geraint Jones is Chief Executive, the Americas for International Business Wales, the agency of the Welsh government responsible for attracting inward investment into the country and promoting its international trade. He is based in New York City.

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