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In the Center of It All

June 2014

Huber Engineered Materials’ Havre de Grace manufacturing plant may seem out of place in the historic city center, but the family-owned business feels right at home.

Huber Engineered Materials

The J.M. Huber Corp. was awarded the IMD-Lombard Odier Global Family Business Award for 2013. The award was established by the International Institute for Management Development and Lombard, Odier & Cie in 1996. Past winners of the prestigious award include Merck Group, S.C. Johnson Family Enterprises and the LEGO Group.

“Huber is a superb example of a world-class family business that has stayed true to its entrepreneurial roots and guiding principles. I am highly impressed by this company’s inclusiveness and by the quality of the dialogue within the family,” says Thierry Lombard, managing partner of Lombard Odier & Cie, a family-owned European banking firm that traces its roots to 1976.

The fact Huber is family owned impacts Havre de Grace operations. Says Mullahey: “Family ownership provides long-term planning. We are not driven by quarterly results. With an attractive compensation package tied to business performance, employees feel like we are part of the family.”

Human resources manager Jessica Jones concurs, noting more than 20 of the site’s 143 employees have been with Huber for more than 25 years.

It seems incongruous, if not inexplicable, that Havre de Grace proper – picture historic homes, canopied streets, the Concord Point lighthouse and stunning Chesapeake Bay views – is also home to a sprawling international manufacturing plant. Yet, it is.

One of the 15 manufacturing sites around the world for Huber Engineered Materials (HEM), a strategic business unit of the J.M. Huber Corp., the operation occupies about 14 acres of contiguous land within Havre de Grace city limits, and has ever since Huber took over a defunct alcohol distillery in 1952. Bordered by Fountain, Adams and Revolution streets, Havre de Grace High School and a train track, the one- to seven-story HEM site is neatly divided by Juniata Street.

The façade of the 1800s-era whiskey distillery is preserved and the interior modernized and repurposed as the plant operations office at 701 Fountain St. The main business for the site is the production of silica. Havre de Grace is also home to Huber’s Research & Development team and its Health & Nutrition business, with offices at 907 Revolution St.

Despite the odd pairing, the city and the commercial enterprise make good bedfellows. Plant Manager Mike Mullahey works hard to ensure it stays that way.

Huber employs more than 4,000 people worldwide, with about 1,300 in HEM. The Havre de Grace site employs 143 people, 73 in R&D and H&N and 70 in manufacturing silica and a variety of silica products geared to the specific needs of the dental, food, tire, pharmaceutical, animal feed and painting/coating industries.

“We manufacture several dozen products, all similar in nature but with unique properties,” Mullahey explains. “We’re the market leader in dental silica, which can be used as an abrasive and a thickener. You also find our silica in spices and powdered drink mixes where silica acts as an anti-caking agent. Silica is also used in paper manufacturing to improve opacity and printability, and in tire manufacturing to reduce rolling resistance, thus improving fuel economy. For the pharmaceutical industry, we produce a silica product that is an inactive ingredient that improves tablet manufacturing.”

Mullahey has worked in Havre de Grace since 1999, and is sensitive to the fact a major manufacturing operation with a railroad spur, two industrial sized spray dryers and delivery trucks could be quite un-neighborly when situated inside city limits.

“We take environmental, health and safety performance very seriously,” Mullahey says. “We are constantly aware of any noise, and take care to control the hours of operation. We have truck traffic only during daylight hours. We also have constant monitoring and control of our emissions including the two steam stacks from our dryers.”

Huber is a good neighbor offsite, as well. Huber once saved the day when the mechanism used to drop the duck during the city’s annual New Year’s Eve Duck Drop malfunctioned. Huber scientists have worked with officials at the Maritime Museum to prepare professional, scientifically accurate displays. Mullahey is an active member of the Chamber of Commerce. Huber even supports the Havre de Grace Police Department when its height and infrastructure might prove useful during investigations.

Despite appearing boxed in, and therefore limited, in Havre de Grace, Chuck Herak, vice president and general manager of HEM’s silica business, says the company is pleased with the Havre de Grace location and its dedicated group of employees.

“Havre de Grace was the company’s first silica plant,” says Herak. “It remains a vital part of our manufacturing footprint and is the center for our global technology organization.”

Mullahey concurs, explaining, “Silica has a low bulk density, meaning it doesn’t travel well and can have a freight cost disadvantage. The Havre de Grace plant is strategically located to serve customers in North and South America, specifically larger customers on the East Coast. There are six strategically situated plants all over the world, two in the U.S., two in Europe and two in Asia. This site is essential to serve Huber’s major silica customers.” I95