In September 2013, the Czech Republic’s foreign minister and ambassador came to Flowery Branch in Hall County to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for ALBAform Inc., which develops and manufactures custom metal components for the automotive industry.
The high-level diplomats told Global Atlanta that they had left ceremonies surrounding a United Nations session in New York at the invitation of Atlanta‘s Czech honorary consul general George Novak because of their support for the efforts of small- to medium-sized companies from their Central European nation of more than 10 million people.
ALBAform’s willingness to take on the risk of an overseas investment outside of Asia or Europe was particularly noteworthy, the officials said, because it represented the first investment by a Czech firm in Georgia.
What a difference four years can make. At its outset in Hall County, the company started with only one Czech engineer and a CNC (computer numerical control) bending machine to bend wires that would be installed into car seats and other components.
Due to the personal relations between Monika Vintrlikova, the daughter of the company’s founder, and a fellow foreign exchange student from Dallas whom she had known as a schoolmate in Spain, the company had first opened in Dallas.
The Dallas exposure verified the opportunities provided by the fast growing automotive sector in the Southeast, but Dallas was too distant from Alabama or Georgia where they anticipated finding many potential clients.
When they had the opportunity to take over a facility in Flowery Branch they quickly seized it and haven’t looked back to Dallas where they had left behind three contract workers.
Jan Vintrlik, Monika’s husband and president of the company, told Global Atlanta during a recent visit to their Hall County operations that once in Flowery Branch, he hired four employees immediately. “…one of them is still with us…all of them had metal working backgrounds.”
He added that they consider the move to Hall County positively, especially because of what he termed its “international environment.”
“There are so many foreign-owned companies that you just feel at home here,” he added. “ No one is surprised you are not from here, and this makes your life easier and we can concentrate on production.”
The firm’s client base has grown to include Daimler, BMW, VW and Tesla while in Europe the company’s main customers include “pretty much every carmaker — from high volume VW, Skoda, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Kia – to low-volume Rolls-Royce or Bentley.”
Meanwhile, the number of employees in Flowery Branch has grown to 55 and is looking to employ 10 more.
It also is in need of expanding its 30,000 square feet by 20,000 square feet to 50,000 to meet the 20 percent anticipated growth in its production of the metal components going into seats and other auto parts.
The extra space is to be used to house more machines and to stock its products. Currently he is cooperating with his landlord to find the extra space, but if he has to move, he said that he won’t leave Flowery Branch. “We want to ensure the same location for our employees,” he said.
“We need people for the quality department; we need technicians who can program CNC machines; we need maintenance people. Of course, new machinery such as CNC bending machines and welding robots require operators.”
Since the machinery is specialized, he added that the company provides special training for its employees, “but metal-working background is always an advantage. We work with our employees to recommend their friends and we also promote ourselves at job fairs in surrounding counties.”
He also said that ALBAform is in touch with Lanier Technical College and posts job placements on the Internet.
Mr. Vintrlik praised U.S. employees, but lamented their mobility. “U.S. employees are happy for company success, support the owners, believe in them. On the other hand, he said, …they leave if they find work closer to their home and they are motivated to find better wages. You must talk to them more, share the company plans and tell them they are doing a good job.”
Of their more than 200 European counterparts, he said qualifying his remarks that there are exceptions to every generalization: “Czechs are stable because they simply do not move for work; they are much harder to get motivated; they get suspicious if you talk to them too much. They also usually do not speak up to you directly, but rather talk among each other if they do not like something.”
According to Mr. Vintrlik, the products that are made both in the Czech Republic and in Georgia are exactly the same. “There is no difference since we supply European seat makers here in the U.S. and in Europe — the technology, quality standards and research/development are ‘copy and paste.’”
While pleased with how his business has developed, he said that the company continues to conduct research often at the request of customers who try “to find savings within our production and cooperate with us on consolidating products, or finding better surface treatments.”
“We, of course, ask our suppliers to make more reliable machines with faster production times, allowing more complexity for our products. Also we have our own tool shops and we own advanced qualify checking tools.
“We also ask our employees to think globally, speak different languages. This helps to gain our competitive advantage. We have people attending development meetings in Germany, assembly welding tools in the U.S. and reporting on economics to our headquarters in the Czech Republic. We also try to add value to our products.”
To learn how Monika Vintrlikova’s father launched into business following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, click here.
Her father, Jan Maderic, visits the company annually and participates in telecommunication conferences.