Editor’s note: This is the second installment in an occasional series exploring Chatham’s robust manufacturing backbone, especially little-known operations with major impacts on national and global economies.
SILER CITY — Fabricated pipes and fitting products aren’t glamorous commodities, but they’re essential in the smooth operation of several critical industries — and a global supplier has its North American headquarters in Siler City.
AD Tubi was founded in Italy in 1997. CEO Andrea Degano started the company after more than 20 years of learning the industry from the ground up. Since then, AD Tubi products have made their way around the world, but the company has only recently increased its U.S. footprint.
“In late 2017 we made the decision to move forward with expansion of our operations into North America,” Craig Sullivan, president of AD Tubi USA, told the News + Record. “There were two states being considered, North Carolina and Texas — those are the best for new business in the country. And ultimately we settled on Siler City in 2018.”
The company invested more than $6 million to renovate the old Olympic Steel building on Hamp Stone Road, an 80,000 square-foot complex where it manufactures specialty welded tubing for a variety of uses.
“We make small diameter welded — primarily stainless steel — tubing for energy markets,” Sullivan said. “Our tubing is used in pressure equipment that is leveraged in power plants, petrochemical refineries — really anything with a steam cycle. It could be in production of food and beverage, all kinds of different applications, but I would say our core business sits in the energy markets.”
To date, the company has shipped its tubing to clients in 53 different countries, Sullivan said. It’s also a major supplier to local industries, including Duke Energy.
“Anything with power generation, electricity, our product is used in that,” Sullivan said. “So Duke Energy is absolutely a customer of ours, and also nuclear power plants have some of the largest amounts of welded tubing in any type of facility, so they’re a huge consumer of our products. Those are probably some of the easiest examples that anyone in North Carolina would know about.”
To accommodate different industry needs, AD Tubi makes tubing from several materials such as titanium, nickel and stainless steel alloys, including 6 Moly, duplex and superferritic. Despite its impressive output, though, the company employs a modest staff.
“It’s a heavily automated process, so fully staffed in this moment is 18 individuals,” Sullivan said. “There’s opportunity to grow, but it won’t be significant. I see this facility maxing out probably somewhere around 30, unless we go to a third shift. But at the moment, staffing a third shift seems almost impossible. I don’t see that in the in the cards right now.”
Like many employers, Sullivan has faced a hiring quandary through the pandemic. When industry restarted a few months ago, he expected a flurry of activity in the labor market. But it’s been largely stagnant, and Sullivan has found an apathetic pool of job candidates.
“I can’t overstate the challenge of trying to hire in this current environment,” he said. “I suspect anyone that wants a job has a job. I would say most of the people that are applying right now probably don’t really want a job. That’s evident in the way they interview, it’s evident in their lack of engagement after receiving their application, and the quality of applicants that we are getting.”
With extra federal unemployment benefits having ended this week, it’s possible that could change, Sullivan added. But he’s not confident.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I think really our only hope is to entice people in other markets, someone that’s underemployed maybe working in the restaurant industry or something like that, where they see a greater career opportunity in manufacturing. But right now we haven’t been able to connect those dots.”
Still he’s glad to be figuring it out in Chatham.
“We’re very excited to be here in Chatham County,” he said. “We’re a young and new employer and we have tremendous growth opportunity within our organization. There’s an opportunity for what we see as a lifelong career working with our organization, and as the company grows that individual is going to have the opportunity to grow with us.”
North America is the largest consumer of tubular goods of any continent in the world, Sullivan said, which only increases prospects for would-be AD Tubi employees. The company’s facility has room to grow, but first it needs enthusiastic staff.
“Given that we are a new company with a fairly small market share, we have the opportunity to grow exponentially over the years,” he said. “So we would invite anyone that’s looking for a career opportunity to check us out and see if we might be a good fit for them.”
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dldolder.