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Mitternight in Satsuma steps up to handle international demand

SATSUMA, Alabama — Some three years after taking over the company, the owners of Mitternight have already dipped into the global market to sell its complex industrial equipment. Last week, Governor Robert Bentley recognized the Satsuma-based company for its excellence in international trade.

The road to get there seemed a natural one, said Lance Covan, a partner and chairman of the board for the company.

“If you have an operating company that has some sort of exposure to the international market, you can spread your risk out at the macro level from what’s just going on in the continental U.S.,” Covan said.

Their work often involves building intricate pressure vessels for petrochemical, oil and gas companies. Its equipment, mainly heat exchangers, distillation columns, boilers and agitators have been exported to Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China and Mexico.

They’ve continued to build on the good name of the company first founded in 1927, now as the builder of choice for companies like DuPont, Dow Chemical and Royal Dutch Shell. Total employees hover around 100 at its 18-acre campus.

The company “had distinguished itself a little bit by trying to create the infrastructure of an exporting business,” Covan said. But they saw the potential for more.

When they bought the company, they knew its reputation was solid, but needed some changes in the areas of process and safety. Within the first two years, Covan said they had applied for a license to export to China.

“Getting the Chinese export license was probably one of the key indicators to the market, meaning our customer base, that we are serious about being in the exporting game,” Covan said.

But most of the success can be ascribed to the patronage of their two largest buyers, Dow and DuPont, Covan said. “Partnering with those guys makes it a lot easier and less risky for us entering those waters because they are already there,” he said. “We’ve been entered into the equation because our big customers are asking us.”

Now they are looking into providing field support for some of the equipment they build, sending employees to off-site locations.

Covan said they plan to start within the US, but that too, could also quickly expand abroad.

“I think the lesson there is if you have a big customer, step and show them you’re interested in the international market,” Covan said, “because they are looking for people who have got the moxie to do those kinds of deals.”

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