Logistics: The choice in the wilderness: Technology has helped keep a Welsh firm ahead of the pack and well out of the rat-race

THE ROAD to Control Techniques is a pretty one. Heading west from the Midlands, the motorway gives up at Telford and, as you cross the Welsh border into Powys, the hills get hillier and the scenery gets more scenic until you arrive at Newtown. Even though the roads are much better than they were, the journey from Wolverhampton, the nearest station on the London line, takes about an hour. This is an unusual place to find the headquarters of a fast-expanding company that relies on rapid communication.

Nevertheless, Control Techniques has grown from three people to well over a thousand without moving its headquarters or main factories from this picturesque setting. It is now one of the world leaders in sophisticated controls for powerful electric motors - devices that have a market as big as the electric motor market itself.

Most surprisingly, while other companies were busy spreading their production capabilities round the world in the 1980s, Control Techniques was closing down factories it had acquired abroad and concentrating production in mid-Wales.

Trevor Wheatley, the chairman, believes it makes sense to get as many economies of scale as possible, and feels that Wales is as good a place as any to manufacture. 'One thing that makes me wild is when a financial institution says we won't be able to compete with the Japanese,' he said. 'That's absolute nonsense.' The group did start to manufacture in Singapore, Mr Wheatley said, 'but we decided that it was just as cost- effective to do it here.'

Now the company has four sites in Newtown, employing 400 people. One factory, which is being expanded, proclaims itself as the 'Control Techniques Drives World Module Assembly Plant'. Most of the units are made for other manufacturers; it would surprise most AEG customers, for instance, to know that the sophisticated German product they were buying was actually Welsh.

Although control drives are high value products and the company's production lines are as automated as any, Mr Wheatley does concede that Newtown's comparative remoteness has brought the group close to upping sticks and moving somewhere else in Britain, or even to America. This has happened twice recently.

As the company expanded throughout Europe, it became clear that a small aircraft would make sense. 'We were getting to a stage where travelling from here was becoming more inconvenient,' Mr Wheatley said.

Manchester, the nearest big airport, was an hour and a quarter's drive away. There was an airfield nearby, at Welshpool, but it was not adapted to take international flights. The company asked the Welsh Office to convert it, at a cost of pounds 1.25m, but was told that a cost-benefit analysis showed that this was not worthwhile.

Mr Wheatley was unimpressed. 'We liked it here but that wouldn't have stopped us moving because we desperately needed an airport,' he said. 'If we had found an acquisition with suitable offices, we could have moved and our Newtown business would have diminished by default.' Eventually Control Techniques helped to finance the airport itself, and its eight-seater turbo prop flies in and out of 'Welshpool International' almost every day.

In the other near desertion, it was the Welsh Office that came to the rescue. One of the group's biggest acquisitions was a dollars 50m company based near Buffalo, New York. 'It had 14 acres of fine industrial land; we seriously considered moving there,' Mr Wheatley said. But the Welsh Office suggested 'an attractive package' of new factories, which persuaded them to stay. In three to five years it will probably make sense to duplicate the Newtown operation in the US, but by then the Welsh factories will be even bigger.

The company has also used new technology to overcome its remoteness. It has a pounds 30,000 video conferencing studio, which is duplicated in five main locations round the world. Like a small television studio, it produces pictures of sufficient quality to allow technical problems to be examined and sorted out by remote control.

Only one geographical problem persists. After buying a company, it tries to persuade engineers to join its research and development centre in Wales. 'We've been quite successful with people from the US, but the Germans and Italians are not interested,' Mr Wheatley said. As a result, research and development is still spread about, although the biggest group is in Newtown.

Clearly, the Welsh tourist office will need to do a better selling job in Europe if Newtown is also to become a multinational centre of research.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable