Sumitomo cuts ribbon

Published 9:23 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson joins Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America President and CEO Ronald J. Smith, left, and the manager of the company’s new Suffolk facility, right, to cut the ribbon at the warehouse and distribution center in the Virginia Regional Commerce Park off Pruden Boulevard.

Warehousing and distribution centers might not be all that unusual in Hampton Roads — and they’re becoming more common every month — but for Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America, using those centers as part of a distribution strategy is an entirely new concept.

On Wednesday, the company celebrated its foray into warehousing and distribution with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its 60,000-square-foot facility in the Virginia Regional Commerce Park off Pruden Boulevard.

The economic crisis of 2008-2009 “knocked the wind out of us,” Sumitomo President and CEO Ronald J. Smith told a small group of employees, city officials and visitors on Wednesday. But in 2010, the business began to “come back strong,” he said, and plans were set into motion for expanding the Japanese company’s operations in America.

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“This distribution center became an integral part of our mission to expand,” he said.

Sumitomo has a manufacturing facility in Chesapeake, where the company used to keep parts for its products until they were requested by the regional assembly centers. The Suffolk center will allow more control over the distribution system and more space to be devoted to manufacturing in Chesapeake, company officials said.

During the 60 days the warehouse has been operating, officials already have found the move to be successful on both fronts.

“For our company, this is truly innovative,” Smith said.

Among other things, Sumitomo makes parts for conveyor systems, and its products are used in nearly 100 percent of all package distribution systems for small shippers, as well as most of the systems used in airports, he said.

Suffolk gave the company $35,000 in economic assistance as an enticement to locate here, Smith said, adding that the assistance had gone far beyond that financial grant.

“Suffolk was … phenomenal,” he said. “They were with us every step of the way.”

“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this relationship,” affirmed Gus Miller of Miller Oil, the site’s developer, as he was congratulated by Mayor Linda T. Johnson for nearly having filled his building nearly to capacity with the addition of Sumitomo to his list of tenants.

Miller said he has only 40,000 square feet remaining to lease of the structure’s 400,000 square feet of space.

For her part, Johnson was ebullient at the event.

“Every day is a good day in Suffolk,” she said. “It might be cloudy, and it might be raining, but the sun is always shining.”

In a brief speech at the ceremony, she touted the 16 jobs Sumitomo brought to the city, and she expressed pride that Suffolk had found a way to be a part of an industry that would be shipping goods through the city, anyway.

“Suffolk welcomes you,” she said.