As 2020 changed the world and almost every part of our lives, businesses met challenges head-on. Some fell victim to the pandemic, but others thrived and are looking forward to continued growth and a strong 2021.
“There were many businesses that continued to do well during COVID, such as our construction companies who have remained very busy,” said Katie Worthington Decker, president and CEO of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. “Many of our professional services businesses have also continued to thrive as they were more prepared to pivot to remote work environments. At least two of our marketing agencies actually expanded staff and client base during this time.”
“Manufacturing continues to be a strong industry within Polk County,” says Javier Marin, Senior Director of Business Resiliency & Global Trade for the Central Florida Development Council. “Our strategic location, business-friendly environment and strong talent pipeline offer an ideal marketplace for manufacturing companies.”
Alvic USA, the U.S. subsidiary of Alvic Group, a wood manufacturer based in Spain, is new to the area but has already experienced an increase in sales in its customized, high-end kitchens, said General Manager Jose Aguilar. The company bought the old International Paper building in 2017, demolished parts of it and opened a manufacturing plant. Its workforce has already increased from 28 to 42.
Because Alvic is considered “essential” as part of the supply chain of construction, it was not required to shut down as the pandemic hit. “During this pandemic, many people started spending much more time at home, even started working remotely, so those families decided to reface their houses,” Aguilar said. The 60-year-old company’s products represent a transition from “old” framed kitchens to frameless European style ones, a trend that’s hit the American market.
Its growth has resulted in job creation for three reasons, Aguilar said:
- “We are currently operating only one shift. We have started the second one, so we needed to hire people to run the machines in different shifts.”
- Alvic purchased new machinery and needs new employees to operate it.
- Those new employees need to be trained because the machinery is “very specific and European,” he said, so the company is hiring in advance to train them.
Founded on three pillars: people, product and innovation — Aguilar said innovation is what keeps the company growing. “Ten to 15 years ago we developed a new product, a panel coated with lacquer. In this industry, lacquer didn’t exist. We were the only one in the world with this. It was a big success. That’s when we started to grow worldwide. We have to keep innovating to be competitive in the market.”
The company is now working on developing an antibacterial component for the panels and implementing new materials like real aluminum and steel in some products, he said. In addition, four students and their teacher helped the company develop a plan to become more efficient. That plan includes using solar power to replace the electricity it uses. The solar panels will provide enough power to operate the plant, with some to sell to TECO, he said.
Alvic located its first manufacturing plant in the U.S. in Polk County for three reasons:
- It’s close to Miami, where its distributor was located at the time.
- Polk gives the company easy access to its major markets in New York and Florida.
- It’s cheaper to send products from Spain to the East Coast.
- It’s easier to service its portfolio of customers from South America.
It has since opened a production facility in Las Vegas.
An American private equity firm bought Alvic and wants to expand in the United States, buying other companies and opening showrooms across the country, Aguilar said. One will be in Lakeland.
If you own a small business and you are interested in enhancing your business resiliency plan for the future, consider participating in CFDC’s Business Resiliency Workshop Series. The virtual workshop series highlights a variety of business resiliency topics for small and minority-owned businesses such as:
- Disaster Planning
- International Marketings
- Growth & Expansion
- Marketing and
- Business Continuity