Cylinders Holding CEO and Chairman Jan Světlík speaks at the grand opening of Atlanta Cylinders Inc. with Atlanta Cylinders COO Vladislav Smrz translating. Photo: Trevor Williams

A Czech-owned provider of gas cylinders held a grand opening of a new distribution facility in Flowery Branch Tuesday, taking the first step toward disrupting a niche industry that affects most advanced manufacturers in the United States. 

Atlanta Cylinders Inc. is the subsidiary of Cylinders Holding a.s., whose facility in Ostrava, Czech Republic, is among the largest in the world for the production of steel cylinders used to hold and transport technical gases, hydrogen and compressed natural gas. 

The company landed in Georgia without the standard sales pitches from local boosters; instead, it came as a blend of diplomatic urging and pull factors that converged at just the right time, company officials said. 

Atlanta Cylinders is importing its Czech-made cylinder bundles into a Hall County warehouse located under the same roof as Albaform Inc., the Czech-owned provider of seat frames to automotive suppliers around the South.

“Welcome to 5405 Rafe Banks Drive,” said Albaform CEO and owner Monika Vintrlikova, who is also the honorary consul of the Czech Republic in Georgia, in welcoming attendees to a reception. 

The brick building is where “exactly 10 years ago” she and husband Jan Vintrlik started Albaform’s journey in the U.S.; it’s now become the point from which another Czech-owned firm will fulfill its ambitions in the market. 

Czech trailblazers in Georgia like Albaform and Silon LLC in Peachtree City are helping sell the state back in their home country, and more companies are taking a serious look, Ms. Vintrlikova added. 

“We have a goal of bringing to Hall County more Czech direct investment,” she said. 

Miloslav Stašek, Czech ambassador to the United States, making fourth visit to Georgia in recent months, has also become a proponent of the state’s business environment after meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp and other during his first visit in September.

“We are enlarging our family of Czech companies here in Atlanta,” the ambassador said in opening remarks, noting that the “extremely friendly conditions” make the metro area a prime hub for firms breaking into the U.S. “What we are also searching for is synergies among the Czech companies.” 

Albaform, which uses industrial gases in its robotic welding processes and supplies products to larger assembly plants, overlaps with Cylinder Holding. The companies are exploring a business partnership going beyond the renting of the warehouse. 

Cylinders Holding CEO and Chairman Jan Světlík said entering the U.S. market has been a long-held objective since the company started selling here in 1996. 

After a 2008 mishap in China, where “thieves” stole the company’s designs, Cylinders Holding swore off that country and has been looking for a way to break into the U.S. to boost market share and be closer to customers. 

Ambassador Stašek said the men have known each other years and before the ambassador took up his posting began discussing the possibility of opening some doors for the Czech firm here. 

Consolidation in the gas cylinder industry, Mr. Světlík said, has left the few remaining domestic players with little incentive to innovate, putting the U.S. behind the curve on technology. 

Atlanta Cylinders hopes to partner with them to provide cylinders that are lighter and boast greater capacity, helping them save time and money on fuel and refilling. 

“For us, American manufacturers are not the competition; it’s the Chinese manufacturers” with their governmnet-subsidized pricing, Mr. Světlík told Global Atlanta. “For us it’s very important to support the not-yet-fallen heroes that are manufacturing steel cylinders here in the U.S.” 

The company sells not only the so-called DOT cylinders that are widely used in the U.S., but also those marked with the UN/ISO standard commonly used in Europe and can be imported into the U.S. These are usually larger and can withstand higher internal pressures. Cylinder Holding sells these individually or in large modular arrays, adhering to the highest standards of safety, Mr. Světlík said.

“I’ve spent 40-plus years in this business, and my No. 1 priority is and has been always been security, security, security,” Mr. Svetlik said in an interview through a translator. “That’s the key to avoid unpleasant surprises.” 

Vladislav Smrz, chief operations officer for Atlanta Cylinders, said the company wants to do more than simply boost sales, but rather to help the industry itself develop in the U.S.  

“The most important thing is that we would like to change the world of cylinders in the United States and to bring the best technology here to help you to improve and get you — I’m sorry to say that — from the 20th century to the 21st century together with our products,” Mr. Smrz said.

In addition to cylinders, Atlanta Cylinder offers technology to track and remotely monitor containers with bundles of cylinders. 

There’s little chance in the short term that Atlanta Cylinder will do the heavy extrusion of steel that it does in its Czech and Polish plants here in the United States, but it is looking to bring some of its lighter manufacturing stateside, including the racks that corral the cylinders into bundles for transport. 

“This is the first easy added value for the United States,” Mr. Svetlik told Global Atlanta. 

The company has also begun talking with Georgia Tech about educational collaborations and is working closely with Hall County to build a local workforce. 

While Atlanta Cylinders had a literal diplomat backing its arrival in Georgia, longtime economic development leader Tim Evans, vice president at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, told Global Atlanta that the community benefits when companies like Albaform become its de facto “ambassadors” in their home countries about the growth they’ve experienced in Georgia. 

Hall County has about 60 international subsidiaries, ranging from small headquarters with a few employees to Kubota Corp., the Japanese tractor and equipment manufacturer with 2,500 employees and plans to add 500 more, Mr. Evans said. 

Not only will Atlanta Cylinders serve the U.S., but it also hopes to deepen its reach into Canada and Mexico from its local operation. 

Officials including Chairman Jan Světlík, center, flanked to the right by State Sen. Shelly Echols, Czech Ambassador Miloslav Stašek, third from left, and Honorary Consul Monika Vintrlikova, second from right, cut the ribbon on the new facility.


As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...