The Goodyear name adorns buildings and some street signs in parts of Akron. Depending on which way you turn, it's almost impossible to escape the tire maker's towering shadow.
But Eliokem Inc. is doing just that at its Akron plant, which is part of Eliokem S.A.S. of France.
The supplier of specialty resins, as well as antioxidants and performance-enhancing polymers for latex used in tire cords, has strung together five years of impressive sales since Goodyear in 2001 spun off its specialty chemicals division into what became Eliokem, a company that also operates a plant in France and another in China.
Customers of the 80-employee operation in Akron include paint and coatings companies, such as Euclid Chemical Co. of Cleveland. Because of growing demand for its lines of resins, Eliokem is boosting production at its processing plant in Akron, said Rick Sandford, its commercial director.
"We're just really pushed on capacity," Sandford said.
Eliokem is hiring 12 chemical operators so it can extend its production schedule to seven days a week from the current five. But even that won't be enough to keep up with orders, so the company plans to invest in more equipment to boost capacity.
Such equipment includes high-tech reactors for producing different resin mixes for customers. Though a capital budget for the upgrades still is under consideration, Sandford said the installation of one reactor tops $1 million.
Sandford said the U.S. operation has experienced a 30-percent spike in resin sales annually in each of the last five years.
To meet the increasing demand, the company is considering an expansion next year of its 112,000-square-foot processing plant.
The Akron plant contributed about 30 percent of Eliokem's total sales of $200 million in 2006, said Sandford, who doubles as Eliokem's regional director of operations in Europe and Asia and was global business manager for Goodyear's specialty resins business.
Parent Eliokem SAS was acquired in September by AXA Private Equity, a unit of Paris-based insurance giant AXA SA.
Increased attention to environmental issues is one reason for Eliokem's growth.
During the last 10 years, the federal government has required coating companies to reduce volatile organic compound emissions commonly associated with solvent-based paints and coatings. Because Eliokem has had success in developing and producing low-VOC resins, more companies such as Euclid Chemical have come knocking.
Jennifer Crisman, product manager at Euclid Chemical, said her company and Eliokem two years ago launched a joint advertising/marketing campaign in trade publications touting Eliokem's low-VOC resins used to make some Euclid Chemical coatings.
Two months ago, Euclid Chemical began carrying the name of Eliokem's Pliotec brand on the packaging of some Euclid Chemical products.
Although it's too soon to determine the benefits of that move in terms of sales, Crisman said there's an advantage of partnering with Eliokem because Euclid Chemical assures itself a supply of resins from a growing leader in the field.
Sandford said Eliokem is scouting potential acquisitions that would allow the company to respond to increased demand in its core businesses and to develop new sectors, especially in North America. Those developments would bolster the Akron operation, he said.
Eliokem also is looking at opportunities in terms of new products.
The company already has developed a fire retardant coating, which it produces in Akron that is applied on the girders of arenas and other large structures. The coating helps slow a potential fire so people inside a structure can escape, said company spokeswoman Valerie Johnson.
Eliokem also is seeing interest for a stain-blocking primer in North America that is odorless, dries fast and boasts lower VOC levels-a big hit with building contractors.
This story was written by David Bennett, Crain's Cleveland Business staff.