Tom Wood abstained from a vote on a location for a Belgium crop protection company’s U.S. headquarters.
But he admits to being pleased when a Delaware location was selected. The company is now headquartered in the popular Little Falls area west of Wilmington.
Wood, the general manager of Belchim U.S., no stranger to the area. The Delaware County native got his first job at Hercules Incorporated, now Ashland.
During his career, Wood worked around the world, with much of his career spent at Philadelphia-based FMC. Wood is now at work in building the Belgian company’s presence in the U.S. through Belchim Crop Protection USA, LLC.
Belchim gained a foothold in the U.S. with the purchase of Engage Agro USA, LLC in May 2017 after previously taking a controlling stake in its Canadian operation.
Moving from Prescott
In the U.S. Engage was based in Prescott, a small city in the Arizona mountains, While a nice place to live and visit, customers flying in from Phoenix faced a long drive, Wood said.
Delaware, by contrast, offered a shorter drive for customers and easier access to flights to Belchim’s Canadian and Belgian offices.
Another attraction was the presence of chemical and crop protection companies in the Delaware Valley.
Northern Delaware will be the headquarters for the combined DowDuPont agriculture operation known as Corteva and Ashland plans to move its small corporate headquarters to its R&D Center a short drive away from Little Falls.
Solenis, a spin-off fromAshland, is working to complete thebig acquisition of a unit of German chemical giant BASF. The deal will make the company comparable in size to the old Hercules.
Belchim did not seek state assistance in relocating to Delaware. Wood sees future growth, based on the product pipeline and possible acquisitions, but did not want to commit to an employment number.
Wood praised landlord Emory Hill for its work in finding space for Belchim in Little Falls, an area that has become popular with a variety of companies. The Belchim space was formerly occupied by JPMorgan Chase, which has operations scattered throughout northern Delaware.
Wood says he is committed to buying local and has used such as Mitchell Associates, an interior architecture firm, along with other Delaware Valley vendors.
Wood admits the privately held company, which has global sales of about $600 million, is surrounded by giants being created in a wave of mergers that included DowDuPont. Bayer-Monsanto, and Syngenta-ChemChina.
At the same time, it does not face the quarterly earnings pressures of competitors. Japanese interests have a minority interest in Belchim.
Current products are used to protect orchards and fields from a variety of pests in what is known as the “tank mixes.” The term refers to products that can be sprayed through a farmer’s equipment.
One interesting product provides “cuticle protection” that limits cracking of skin in cherries.
The consolidation of the industry is understandable, according to Wood. Crop protection has some similarities with the pharmaceuticals industry, with strict regulations and costly research and development pipelines.
Late state development
In the current environment, Belchim’s strategy is to look for products in later stages of development.
Earlier this year, Tough5EC was granted emergency status for the treatment of weeds in mint-growing areas such as Michigan, Wisconsin and the state of Washington.
The company is now seeking regulatory approval to expand use of the Tough5EC, which can combat weeds that other herbicides cannot handle.
The current wave of mergers might seem to indicate that Belchim would have its pick of niche products.
“We’re agnostic,” Wood says about the current market. While always looking at possibilities, the merged companies typically want to sell off aging product lines
One exception to the rule, according to Wood, came with his former employer FMC snapping up a DowDuPont crop protection product line that the merged company had to sell off for antitrust reasons.
As part of the deal, FMC took possession of a portion of the DuPont Stine-Haskell complex near Newark for research and development work.
Still, Wood is optimistic growth will continue.
The company has already hired two former DuPonters at its office, which employs five and has room for continued growth in its Little Falls offices.