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Refrigerated truck manufacturer picks Shallotte for startup’s hub

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By Brian Slattery

SHALLOTTE—A new business that opened in Shallotte on Dec. 5 intends to revolutionize the refrigerated trucking market, but local officials are happy just to have the anticipated 30 new jobs created in the first year.

NEAH Transportation Holdings chose an existing building in Shallotte Business Park to base manufacturing and assembly of a new Refrigerated Transportation Vehicle (RTV).

Steve Kehrer, NEAH Transportation chief operating officer, said the company already put $125,000 into renovating the property for the new business and has 14 employees working at the building.

He anticipates adding another 16 employees in the next year, but has more ambitious plans to grow to 50 employees in one year, 100 by year two and continue to grow in the next five years.

“This will become a big wellspring after 2013. In Brunswick County we can have 250 employees in five years,” Kehrer said. “There are 6,000 people out of work in Brunswick County. I think we can find help.”

Jim Bradshaw, director of the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission, said the company first contacted him in May while it searched for a manufacturing site in Brunswick and other counties.

Bradshaw said they found a building in another county, but when it didn’t work out they came back to Brunswick to look at buildings in Leland and Shallotte.

The company will share the building with Torus Energy Group, manufacturer of walk-in coolers, freezers and large cold-storage facilities.

“This is only the beginning. We are assisting them with another site in Shallotte,” Bradshaw said. “Either a large existing facility or they will build their own.”

“A good way to jump start a sagging economy is with manufacturing,” Shallotte Mayor Sarah McCullough said at the business opening. “This will be good not only for Shallotte, but Brunswick County, Columbus County and all of the area.”

Kehrer added the company received no funding or incentives to locate in Shallotte.

“There’s no government money—state, county or federal,” he said.

Production should start by the end of the month, Kehrer said.

“The first truck will roll out Jan. 4,” Kehrer added. “We chose the facility that could meet our aggressive timeline to start operations and accommodate future growth.”

According to Kehrer, Shallotte was an attractive location because it’s between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Logistically, this is a good spot. It’s under-utilized,” Kehrer said.

“I’ve done business from California to the East Coast. This area wants to create business. We need that support to grow,” Karl Miller, chairman of NEAH Energy, said.

NEAH Transportation Holdings is a subsidiary of NEAH Energy, an acquisition company that focuses on energy-based assets.

“What we put together will have practical applications; real world (applications),” Kehrer said. “It’s got to work, it’s got to last, it’s got to be made in America.”

NEAH Transportation will use the chassis of a Mercedes Benz 3500 transport truck—converted from diesel to run on natural gas—as the platform for a customizable refrigerated unit that is cooled using solar power.

“We bring in the chassis and design everything else,” Kehrer said.

Miller said thermal insulation and heat-shielding ensure there is no heat transfer from the vehicle or the road to the refrigerated box.

Solar filmstrips on the top of the truck charge batteries that drive the cooling system, which uses a minimum amount of Freon. The company makes layered insulation material used to construct the cold storage units.

“There’s no metal on the truck; it’s a protruded product. It’s four times harder than steel and lasts five times longer than current aluminum (used for refrigerated trucks).”

According to Kehrer, the solar strips provide three times the power necessary to run the cooling system.

“It doesn’t need a lot of energy,” Kehrer said. “We need very little traditional refrigeration.”

Miller said the layered panels are energy-efficient.

“The panels are part of our secret sauce. They are a game-changer in the industry,” Miller said.

Kehrer said materials and design the company uses make its RTVs more than 1,000 pounds lighter than traditional trucks.

Miller said the lifespan of current models of refrigerated trucks is about three-and-a-half years, which includes a lot of time in a mechanic’s shop due to breakdowns of the cooling system.

He added that mold grows in the compressor of traditional cooling units and in the trucks, creating unsanitary conditions.

“Our materials are mold-resistant. These trucks meet USDA standards to manufacture for the food service industry,” Miller said.

Miller said in a statement announcing the new business that refrigerated trucks containing food and other goods that need to be kept cold have unique constraints that can be a challenge for a trucking company.

“These industry challenges present a substantial opportunity for NEAH to manufacture a new class of energy and thermal-efficient RTVs for the food service industry and capture a significant global market share,” Miller said in the statement.

“It’s a state-of-the-art product,” Miller added while speaking at the Dec. 5 opening.

 

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.