Exporting underseas attractions overseas

Reynolds Polymer, Grand Junction CO
Reynolds Polymer Technology in Grand Junction supplied components for a recently completed aquarium in Yeosu, South Korea, that features an underwater acrylic room offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding aquatic life. Reynolds Polymer has been involved in projects in more than 50 countries around the world and recently won the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Exporting. (Photo courtesy Reynolds Polymer Technology)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

From a conference room at Reynolds Polymer Technology in Grand Junction, Mark Miller can see a whole world of potential markets.

Even as demand in the United States for the acrylic components Reynolds Polymer manufactures for aquariums, architectural features and swimming pools lags along with the economy, exports to such far-flung regions as Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe have substantially increased.

In fact, 2011 was one of the best years in the 25-year history of Reynolds Polymer thanks in large part to the fact exports almost doubled, says Miller, chief financial officer of the company. “That was fairly unexpected, but pleasantly so.”

Reynolds Polymer received another pleasant surprise as one of the latest recipients of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Exporting. The awards program honors Colorado companies for their commitment to international trade.  Miller accepted the award at the recent World Trade Day in Denver.

“The strongest activity right now continues to be Asia,” Miller says of export markets for Reynolds Polymer. “But there are things that are kind of happening all over the world.”

The company has completed projects in more than 50 countries. Miller expects the list to lengthen as resorts continue to add aquariums and other features to attract tourists, and the economies grow in developing nations.

China, South Korea and Singapore have become top export markets. “China is just a powerhouse now compared to what it was even 10 years ago, Miller says.

But on a continental scale, South America and Africa also offer what Miller quantifies as “huge” potential.

While the ratio of domestic to international sales varies year to year, Miller estimates that exports now account for about two-thirds to three-fourths of sales.

The thick, R-Cast acrylic windows Reynolds Polymer manufactures for aquariums remains a best seller and the product for which the company is best known.

Working with International Concept Management, its sister company in Grand Junction, Reynolds Polymer has participated in a succession of projects pushing the boundaries for the size and design of aquariums. While ICM provides a range of design, engineering and management services, Reynolds Polymer serves as a vendor in supplying components.

The AquaDom installed in 2003 in a Berlin hotel complex measures more than 50-feet tall and 36-feet in diameter and contains 260,000 gallons of saltwater.

An elevator runs through the very center of the aquarium, offering a view of the fish and coral and rock formations along the way.

ICM and Reynolds Polymer installed the largest cone-shaped aquarium in the world earlier this year as the centerpiece of a luxury mall in Casablanca, Morocco. The Aquadream stands 31 feet tall, contains 264,000 gallons of saltwater and also features an elevator through the center of the aquarium.

In May, the largest aquarium in South Korea opened in Yeosu in time for a world exposition there. The aquarium features a 20-foot diameter underwater acrylic room affording a 360-degree view of the surrounding aquatic life.

“A lot of creativity goes into the things we do,” Miller says.

Still other aquarium projects are under way elsewhere, Miller says, including Denmark and Brazil.

That’s not to mention the acrylic and resin components Reynolds Polymer manufactures for a variety of other applications, from architectural features to scientific instruments to swimming pools.

Given that level of activity, Miller expects 2012 exports to remain strong for Reynolds Polymer.

Increased exports translates into a bigger economic effects in Mesa County as Reynolds Polymer brings in money from sales from around the world back to Grand Junction to pay wages and taxes as well as purchase materials from local suppliers.

“That’s huge and that really has a strong impact on the local economy,” Miller says.

Reynolds Polymer was founded in California in 1987, but relocated to Grand Junction in 1993 and still operates its main manufacturing facility inside a large building on Hollinsgworth Street just off Patterson Road.

Massive acrylic panels are cast at the facility and then trucked to various ports for overseas projects, most often Houston. From there, the panels are shipped to their final destinations and assembled.

In response to increasing demand in Asia, Reynolds Polymer opened a sister company in Thailand to manufacture panels and other products.

In Grand Junction, staffing has nearly doubled over the past three years to top 100, although the payroll remains below levels of a decade ago. Economic downturns have forced Reynolds Polymer to run more efficiently, but also made the company more competitive, Miller says.

Given the performance of the company in the midst of a stubbornly slow recovery in the U.S., Miller is that much more optimistic about what will happen when conditions do improve. “When that happens, we’ll be able to take advantage of that as well. It will be great.”

Meanwhile, the company will continue to take advantage of increasing exports to the wide world beyond the conference room in Grand Junction.

Why Reynolds Polymer won

Reynolds Polymer Technology won an Excellence in Exporting award on the basis of several factors, among them the number of international markets the company serves, the proportion of sales attributable to exports and the size of its staff in Colorado.

“We were thrilled to have a company like them receive an award,” said Jorge Diaz, program administrator at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which coordinates the awards program.

Reynolds Polymer was one of four winners selected from among 12 applications for the awards, which for more than 40 years have honored Colorado companies for their commitment to trade. Reynolds Polymer won in the category for mid-sized manufacturers.

A panel of eight professionals who work in international trade evaluated the award applications and considered a range of criteria. Reynolds Polymer received the maximum score possible from seven of the eight members, Diaz said.

The panel was impressed by the more than 50 countries in which Reynolds Polymer has completed projects, the 60 percent of sales attributable to exports and the more than 100 people the company employs in the state.

The awards program helps to draw attention to the importance of exporting to the Colorado economy, Diaz said. The total value of goods exported from Colorado in 2011 totaled $7.3 billion, a nearly 11 percent increase over 2010.