Heil Trailer HQ leaves city

Heil Trailer HQ leaves city

October 2nd, 2009 by Brian Lazenby in Businesstopstory

Staff Photo by Brian Lazenby Doyle Everhart inspects a fuel tanker at Heil's Athens, Tenn., manufacturing plant before it is delivered to the customer.

ATHENS, Tenn. -- Heil Trailer International called Chattanooga home for 30 years, but the company has loaded up its headquarters and moved to Athens, Tenn.

Greg Hewitt, president, said the 12- to 15-employee headquarters moved to get closer to the company's primary manufacturing facility.

"We were always pleased working in Chattanooga, but this gets us closer to the main operation," Mr. Hewitt said. "It just made good business sense."

The headquarters for Heil Environmental, which manufactures refuse and recycling vehicles, will remain in Chattanooga.

Heil Trailer operates a 250,000-square-foot tank trailer manufacturing facility in Athens where raw metal is molded and formed into tanker trailers to meet customer requirements.

The company made the 45-miles shift in April and its staff is temporarily housed in offices inside an idle hydraulics facility owned by Heil's parent company, Dover Corp.

The temporary office is about seven miles from the manufacturing facility.

Mr. Hewitt said it is unclear how long the employees will be in the temporary location, but Heil is planning construction project at the Athens facility that will include corporate offices and a training center.

Rob Preston, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited about the move and the exposure the new training center will bring to Athens.

"It is exciting to think that we are going to have people coming here from halfway around the world," Mr. Preston said. "Everyone who goes through training with them will come here."

It is unclear when construction will begin. Mr. Hewitt said some site work has been done but officials are waiting until the economy bounces back before making the investment.

"I guess I'd say we are in a holding pattern," he said. "We have to see how quickly the volume comes back in the business, and that's like looking at a crystal ball."

Mr. Hewitt declined to say how much Heil will spend on the project, but he noted the cost to be "seven figures."

Heil is not concerned about making a major investment despite having to make some changes to combat the economic recession.

"We've had some major adjustments," Mr. Hewitt said. "But we have navigated through that very well."

Heil's defense contracts to provide tankers to the military has helped it through the recession, but Mr. Hewitt said the company also has increased its market share.

"As the markets get smaller, we just have to earn a bigger share," he said.

The company also has operations in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Bangkok, Thailand, that serve many of Heil's international customers.

"We have an international presence, and we hope to continue expanding that," Mr. Hewitt said, noting that 15 to 20 percent of their business comes from foreign sales.

Heil Trailers is considering opening a facility in Brazil.

Mr. Hewitt said the Athens facility is perfectly located because it can pull its employees from both Knoxville and Chattanooga.

"It is very well positioned for future growth," he said.