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With demand for its products at all-time highs, Service Center Metals undertakes expansion and addition of 125 jobs

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With a massive new expansion now underway at its manufacturing operations in Prince George County, aluminum extrusions maker Service Center Metals is maintaining a classic rock ’n’ roll theme in its operations.

When the company opened its first manufacturing plant in the SouthPoint Business Park in 2003, it installed its first 3,100-ton aluminum press and named it “Elvis” after the rock legend.

Four more expansions of the factory followed over the next decade. Those included adding a new press named “The Boss,” after Bruce Springsteen, one of co-founder and CEO Scott Kelley’s favorite performers.

Two casting lines were added in 2014 to produce aluminum logs, and those machines were christened as “Keith” and “Mick” for Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. That was followed by “Jake” and “Elwood,” also known as the Blues Brothers.

Now, with demand for its products at historic highs, the company is undertaking its most ambitious expansion yet: a more than $120 million addition of two new factory buildings not far from its existing plant on Quality Way.

The more than 320,000-square-foot expansion includes an additional aluminum extrusion plant and a remelt plant.

The expansion will boost the company’s total operations in Prince George to about 820,000 square feet. The new plants will increase production and will include the addition of a new press named “Jimi,” after guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, and a new casting line named “Cash,” after singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.

“It has been 20 years, and we have come a long way,” said Kelley, who founded the company in 2002 with Randy Weis and Chip Dollins, all of whom had been employees of the former Henrico County-based Reynolds Metals Co. before its acquisition by Alcoa Inc. in 2000.

The company obtains scrap aluminum from around the country, melts it down into billet, and then manufactures aluminum extrusions in about 2,000 different shapes such as rods, bars, tubes and pipes. The company sells those products to aluminum service centers that supply them to end-users in numerous industries such as machinery and equipment makers, the building and construction market, and transportation products.

“Demand has been exceptional over the last two years, with the exception of the second quarter of 2020 after COVID hit,” Kelley said. “The July following that downturn, business spiked and it has continued to today.”

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The Prince George factory is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with about 500,000 pounds of extrusions shipped out every weekday.

“I have been in this industry for 40 years, and these are the strongest business conditions I have ever seen,” Kelley said. “Demand is strong, and we are at 26-week lead times, which we have never experienced in 20 years.”

He said the company’s shipments of aluminum extrusions will be close to 150 million pounds this year, and should exceed 200 million pounds in a few years.

The privately owned company does not report sales or profit, but Kelley said it could reach $1 billion in sales in 2024 if current trends and projections hold.

“It seems like business conditions are very strong pretty much across the board” in all the industries the company serves, Kelley said. “We are basically sold out through the end of the year.”

The company has about 9 million pounds of scrap metal stored at its factory to be melted down and extruded into useful products.

“We were a green business before it was cool to be green,” Kelley said. “We take all this scrap metal and melt it down and make products that go on all sorts of machinery and cars — all different kinds of uses.”

One of Service Center Metals’ longtime customers is Copper and Brass Sales Inc., a Michigan-based company that supplies materials to manufacturing companies.

“It is a very good economic time in the manufacturing sector in North America,” said Kevin Reid, vice president for strategic procurement at Copper and Brass Sales, which is a division of ThyssenKrupp Materials.

“We are seeing some level of reshoring,” Reid said. Many companies have moved production back to the U.S. from overseas because of supply chain weaknesses that were exposed by the pandemic.

“I think Service Center Metals has good timing on this expansion because there is going to be more demand for North American-made extrusions,” Reid said.

Construction has started on the company’s expansion on a 72-acre site at Chudoba Parkway and Bull Hill Road just off Interstate 295.

Service Center Metals acquired the previously undeveloped property from Rolls-Royce North America, which in 2011 opened a widely heralded aircraft components factory nearby on a 1.024-acre plot in the Crosspointe office park in Prince George.

In 2021, however, Rolls-Royce closed that factory and laid off about 280 of its remaining employees, after a previous round of layoffs that had hit 120 employees.

Rolls-Royce blamed the closure on the economic fallout and collapse in global travel resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The land and the factory are for sale.

Having a home-grown company such as Service Center Metals use part of the property for development is a positive step, said Jeffrey D. Stoke, Prince George’s county administrator.

“For a local company to take 72 acres of Rolls-Royce land to do their next expansion is exactly what we need to move forward with our economy,” Stoke said.

As for the remaining Rolls-Royce property, “we understand there is an interested party now working with Rolls-Royce and hope to hear an announcement soon,” Stoke said.

The latest expansion comes two years after SCM Industries LLC, an affiliate of Richmond-based Riverstone Group, bought a majority stake in Service Center Metals. The Riverstone Group, which operates a variety of companies including The Jefferson Hotel and the James Center complex in downtown Richmond, is owned by Richmond businessman William H. Goodwin Jr.

“The Riverstone ownership has really helped accelerate our growth plans,” Kelley said. “We are able to move a lot quicker now.”

With the expansion underway on Chudoba Parkway, building pads are already in place. As part of the project, crews are digging a 60-foot pit that will house a new vertical casting unit. The company refers to that as its “big dig.”

Vertical casting will bring some new production capabilities compared with the horizontal casting systems at the existing plant, said Sam Wang, director of engineering and IT for Service Center Metals. “Horizontal casting is a continuous process. It works well when you stay on the same alloy and don’t do a lot of alloy changes. This vertical system is more of a batch-style process.”

“It is like cooking soup, as I like to say,” Wang said. “It is like trying to switch from beef stew to chicken noodle soup. It is easier if you dump the pot out and start over than trying to make beef stew and then switching that to chicken noodle soup.”

The goal is to complete the new manufacturing plant by Nov. 1, Wang said.

“We like a challenge,” Kelley said. “We like to keep a startup mentality and mindset.”

One of the company’s big challenges has been recruiting people to work in its production plants, Kelley said.

Last year, the company hired Kristi Gordon, a recruiting specialist, to beef up its outreach and find good candidates for jobs.

“There are definitely a lot of candidates out there, but are they quality candidates for Service Center Metals?” Gordon said. “Are they candidates that are going to show up for work, or show up for a job interview?”

“Not a lot of people out there have a solid work history,” Gordon said. “People jump from job to job, and I think that it is indicative of the culture out there now.”

Factory work “isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you like working hard and don’t mind the heat and shift work, it is a great place to work, and we pay really well, and we have amazing advancement opportunities,” Gordon said.

Kelley said the company’s starting pay is $26 per hour, and the average pay for production jobs is $33 per hour. The company also has opened an on-site clinic with a nurse practitioner who will see employees and their families without cost to the employees.

The company has been able to keep the factory operating on schedule even during the pandemic, Kelley said.

“Our next significant step is adding staff, and right now we are on target, but we have a lot of work to do,” he said.

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