Source: Sherman Publications

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Local mfr. expresses interest in village site

by CJ Carnacchio

December 04, 2013

Raven Technical Services Supervisor Brandon Stepka, of Attica Twp., does some balancing work on a carrier input shaft.
Robert Corbin, owner and president of Raven Engineering, Inc., poses with some laser tire analyzers. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio.
An old industrial building could get a new lease on life, a local business could get a new home and Oxford Village could get some additional revenue.

It all depends on whether or not Raven Engineering, Inc. and the village can make a deal for 98 S. Glaspie St.

"It would be a solution which keeps us in the community (and) gives us a location we would like," said Robert Corbin, owner and president of Raven Engineering.

The Oxford-based company is exploring the feasibility of buying and rehabilitating the 20,000-square-foot building on the 3.42-acre site, then relocating its headquarters there.

The village purchased 98 S. Glaspie St. for $700,000 in March 2006.

No formal purchase offer has been made to the village at this time. If and when that time comes, Corbin said a written one would be submitted.

Corbin said his company needs additional space to better accommodate its current needs and allow for continued growth.

"We're looking into the future and saying, 'We fit into the space (where) we are now, but will we fit into it a year from now or 18 months from now?" he said. "(We're) maybe betting on the come a little bit, (but) it looks like our business is going to continue to improve and we would enjoy more space.

"The (additional) space for us means we can be more productive, we would have a better layout and the flow of our work would be increased."

Corbin likened Raven Engineering's needs to that of "any typical family."

"We've rented a place and the family is growing," he said. "There's a couple of kids that have shown up and as we've outgrown the place we're renting, we're now saying, 'Hey honey, we need to do something.'"

Located in a 12,500-square-foot leased space at 3270 Adventure Lane, Raven Engineering has been a part of the Oxford community since 1997.

The manufacturer provides a broad line of products and services related to balancing, gauging and testing equipment for a diverse mix of markets including aerospace, agricultural, automotive, aviation, military, marine, industrial and racing.

"The majority of the products that we manufacture in our building are driveline-related components automotive and light truck driveshafts, any type of axle assemblies," explained Lee Petrimoulx, corporate sales and marketing executive for Raven Engineering. "We also build some equipment that would be used for the purpose of balancing or gauging those type of components. Although most of our equipment manufacturing is done overseas."

Raven Engineering's sales range from $2.5 million to $5 million annually. It has 14 full-time employees and two part-time workers.

Corbin said his company's considered moving to locations north and south of Oxford, but the preference is to remain in this community.

"Have we looked at properties in other cities? Yes, we have," he said. "To be frank with you, (those locations are) probably less expensive and easier to move in (to).

"But when we talk amongst ourselves here, we say, "If there's a way that we can stay within the Oxford community, let's try to exhaust that (option) first. Let's try to make that work.'"

Corbin wants to maintain the "comfort level" of being headquartered in Oxford. He said Raven's customers and employees are accustomed to coming here and 18 of its suppliers are located here.

"We're comfortable with the community. We want to stay close," he said.

It also helps that the village property already has a building on it.

"That's what attracted us to it," Corbin said. "To have an existing building like the one that's on 98 Glaspie St., certainly is a solution that interests us."

Raven Engineering realizes that rehabilitating the building, which has greatly deteriorated over the years, and making the improvements necessary to accommodate its needs would be a major undertaking.

How much the company could offer for the property would largely depend on how much it would have to spend to renovate the building, according to Corbin. Right now, there's no cost estimate for the project because Raven representatives haven't been able to get a good look at the structure due to all the road salt and boats currently being stored inside it.

"It's very difficult to get an evaluation on the condition of the building because you can't hardly get around in the darn thing," Corbin said.

In a presentation that Raven Engineering submitted to the village council last week, the company indicated it would need to add approximately 4,000 square feet of single-story office space, repair and/or repaint the entire building and add a truck well in the rear.

Raven would attempt to give the building an historic appearance and feel, so it "looks as though it has been part of Oxford for 70-80 years," according to the presentation.

But just because Raven wants the building to look vintage doesn't mean it wouldn't be up-to-date in terms of function. The company assured it would have "all the modern amenities expected in a Class A facility."

"Once we fix it up, it would provide the image that we want for our company," Corbin said.

The village hasn't done much with 98 S. Glaspie St. since buying it.

It's been used for event parking, storing road salt for the Department of Public Works and boats for a private company, and as a makeshift skate park for local youth.

The main reason the village bought the property was because of its close proximity to the municipal water supply. Officials didn't want to risk another industrial user moving in and possibly contaminating the groundwater.

Over the years, the property was home to Smith Silo, Spearing Tool & Manufacturing Co. and Sea Link International.

Officials considered using the property to expand Scripter Park, house a community/senior center and relocate the village offices and police station. But none of those plans ever came to fruition, primarily due to a lack of funds.

There was also an idea to turn the property into a privately-operated indoor sports training facility. That never happened, either.

In November 2012, village residents voted 1,069 to 521 to grant the municipality the authority to sell it. Because the property was purchased using water and sewer monies, proceeds from its sale must go back into those funds.

If Raven Engineering were to buy it and move in, the property would have to be rezoned. It's currently zoned for single-family residential use. It was previously zoned light industrial.

Corbin said his company's use of the property would be light industrial and the impact on the surrounding area would be negligible.

Ninety-five percent of Raven's new equipment is manufactured in South Korea, while 100 percent of its driveline engineering and manufacturing is done in-house. Most of the company's in-house work involves "minimal noise, vibration, fumes, fluids and zero waste."

"We are more of an assembler or a testing facility," Petrimoulx said. "We don't consume hazardous materials. We don't store hazardous materials (at) our facility."

"Due to the nature of our business, we are a zero environmental impact contributor," according to Raven's presentation to the village. "We recycle 100 percent of our waste metals, cardboard, wood and plastic."

It was noted that truck traffic would also be minimal should Raven Engineering relocate to 98 S. Glaspie St. There would be a few daily deliveries and pickups by Federal Express and United Parcel Service.

"Semi-truck traffic is not as common, but does exist," according to the presentation.

"One of the things that obviously we have concerns about, as a business, is our stewardship (in) the community, making certain that people do not see us as a negative in that area," Petrimoulx said. "We want to be part of this community and stay part of this community."