Entrepreneur has big plans for Terramite
Although he is only 45 years old, Huichen Xu owns a Chinese manufacturer of construction and mining equipment; a Chinese research and development company; a Hong Kong holding company; a real estate company and a Shanghai trading company.
Xu also is the new owner of Terraquip Construction Products Inc., the maker of small Terramite-brand backhoes, tractors and end loaders.
The young entrepreneur has big plans for Terramite, which is headquartered in Cross Lanes.
In an interview conducted through Shaohui Jiang, a translator with the law firm Bailey & Glasser, Xu (pronounced "shoe") said that although he may import Chinese-made construction equipment to sell here, it is not his focus. Rather, Xu's immediate goals are to expand Terramite's product line, build the equipment here and grow sales in North America.
"We will grow the operation right here and build a R&D center and add more models and strengthen the research capacity and hope to do well in North America," he said. "I have been studying Terramite's history. It was founded in 1965. The company has a great history. It was very successful except for the last few years."
Terramite had 94 employees in 2003, when then-U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., toured the company's factory on Goff Mountain Road. Now Terramite has fewer than 50 employees, Xu said.
"I want to grow production from several hundred units (per year)," he said. "I want to streamline production. After that, I hope the pieces come together. We will hire more people."
Xu hopes to eventually export Terramite products to China and other Asian nations. "China has a huge market for this type of equipment," he said.
"Made in the U.S.A. is still a big brand, a good sell," he added. "At this stage of the economy, it is not like 20 years ago, when customers were looking for cheaper. Customers are looking for quality. They want the most reliable equipment."
Other companies also make small construction equipment "but Terramite equipment has unique features, a unique market share," he said. "Technology in the U.S.A. is still way ahead — that's also true in many other areas, not just construction equipment."
Xu said he had been looking at a variety of companies in the United States for possible purchase, with a focus on equipment manufacturers. "Terramite stood out," he said.
Kelly G. Cunningham established Terramite 47 years ago. In 2008 his sons, Bob and John Paul Cunningham, sold the company to Coneqtec Universal Corp. of Wichita, Kan. Xu said he bought the company from Coneqtec on Aug. 31. He declined to disclose the price.
Xu said he has been spending a lot of time here because so many details need to be attended to in his effort to re-energize Terramite. He is not getting much sleep because the time difference between China and the United States allows him to work almost 24 hours a day.
His Chinese construction equipment manufacturing company, Lioning Heavylong, has about 300 employees. Xu said he established the company in 1993 "with very little." Heavylong is headquartered in Anshan, a northern Chinese city of almost 3.5 million people that is near the North Korean border.
Xu said he has received a warm welcome from state and local officials in West Virginia. He proudly shows off a lapel pin shaped like the state.
An associate said Xu is looking to buy a home in the area.
Contact writer George Hohmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4836.