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Sacmi chooses Iowa to strengthen U.S. presence


The Sacmi Group, a $1.5 billion international industrial group based in Imola, Italy, that controls 80 percent of the European market for ceramics equipment, has chosen to strengthen its presence in the United States from Urbandale.     A grand opening celebration was scheduled Saturday at 3434 106th Circle, the site of Sacmi USA Ltd.’s newly expanded headquarters, which were increased in size to 65,000 square feet from 12,000 square feet to accommodate a showroom. The showroom features a full line of equipment manufactured by the Sacmi Group and its subsidiaries for the plastics and packaging and food processing industries, as well as the ceramics industry. With its expansion, Sacmi USA has increased its Urbandale workforce to 30 from 18.

Established in Italy in 1919 by nine workmen and structured as a cooperative to give workers equity shares, the Sacmi Group has 31 companies under its umbrella. Most of the products are made in Italy, though there is a small manufacturing operation at the Urbandale location, said Sacmi USA General Manager Luca Berrone.

It wasn’t incentives from the Grow Iowa Values Fund or Iowa Department of Economic Development grants that brought the company to Urbandale, an unlikely location for Sacmi’s U.S. headquarters with no apparent synergies in place, but connections the Berrone made in Iowa years ago as a foreign exchange student who never left the state.

Berrone, originally from Torino, Italy, attended Des Moines’ Hoover High School in 1974. He extended his stay by enrolling at Iowa State University, where he met his wife, Margaret, and later took a job with the old Iowa Development Commission, the forerunner to the IDED. There, he worked to promote Iowa as a location for foreign businesses and helped facilitate a contract between the Sacmi Group and Midland International Tile Co., a Redfield brick manufacturer that was retooled in the mid-1980s to compete in the ceramic tile industry.

“The whole thing kind of changed and took a life of its own,” said Berrone, who was named director of Midland’s tile project. The tile manufacturing facilities at the brick plant were eventually shuttered, but when he left in 1987 to work with   the Sacmi Group, the Redfield tileworks was still vibrant. Sacmi was Midland’s main supplier at a time it was looking to increase its strength in the U.S. market. Sacmi USA was formed in 1994 and Berrone was named its general manager. Urbandale was selected as the site for its U.S. headquarters because Berrone and his family, which includes son Tyler, 19, and daughter Daniela, 16, wanted to remain in Greater Des Moines.

“We felt strongly about remaining here to raise our family and because of its livability,” Berrone said. “We made the decision to stay here, but there was nothing that was market-driven.”

The Sacmi Group has little competition in the ceramics industry in Europe, due primarily to vertical integration within the company that provides ceramics makers with all the machines necessary from the beginning to the end of the manufacturing process. In its plastics and packaging and food processing industries, Sacmi faces competition from both U.S. companies and companies elsewhere in Europe and Japan.

Berrone thinks the U.S. market has strong potential for the company, especially with technology Sacmi is currently testing that will allow fruit growers to time their harvests so fruit will reach optimum ripeness by the time it arrives in stores for retail sale. The new product will be introduced first in the American market, Berrone said.

Sacmi USA represents a small but growing portion of the company’s businesses. “We believe the United States market is going to be an important if not pivotal market for our businesses,” Berrone said.

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