Contact Attachments are a manufacturing firm who were attracted to relocate to Newtown in the 1970s as a result of the financial incentives offered by the DBRW. During their time in Newtown the focus of the business has evolved, from providing powered pallet systems to Cadbury at Bourneville, to designing and manufacturing attachments for forklift trucks that are used in the construction, pharmaceutical, petro-chemical and agricultural sectors around the world. The range of ‘attachments’ the company manufactures has both expanded and become increasingly specialised, from providing the UN with equipment for lifting 45 gallon drums off trucks in Burundi to designing a device for taking the wheels on and off the Eurostar train. Whilst the UK market continues to account for the majority of sales, European and worldwide sales are growing thanks in large part to the effective use of Internet-based marketing with other well-known customers including BMW, ESSO, Chevron, Singapore Airlines, Honda and Glaxo-Smith Kline.
Many people – ourselves included – would be surprised to come across a company in mid Wales manufacturing yacht and powerboat fittings, but this is the case with Makefast who have designed and developed a range of innovative products (canopies, bimini and sunroof systems) for this niche market. This yacht fittings arm of the company, Makefast Marine, represents a high profile and globally connected part of the business, with some of their largest customers including boat and yacht building companies and distributors in the UK, America, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, France and China. However, Makefast also produce safety fasteners for personal protective equipment and it is the mundane flat metal safety buckle that has been the company’s biggest selling product on an international stage over the last 20 years. On the surface, this object is less exciting than high-quality parts for luxury yachts. However, the humble buckle played a small but essential role in a spectacular event of human endeavour that garnered global media attention earlier this year, when two climbers spent 18 days free climbing the near-vertical Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. On their way up the 3000ft ascent, the pair slept in ‘portaledges’ – hanging tents suspended from the rock which were made by the outdoors equipment company Black Diamond and incorporated safety buckles from Makefast of Newtown.
G&T Evans are a building and agricultural merchants at the edge of the town’s Mochdre industrial estate and our assumption had therefore been that they would less obviously be connected into and influenced by global economic trends when compared with the manufacturing firms discussed so far. However, a number of fascinating examples came out of our meeting with the company’s proprietor, Mr Tommy Evans. For instance, a major output from the company’s saw mill had for a long-time been ‘wood wool’ – a packaging material made from fine wood shavings, which is sold to a range of customers, including Wedgwood and other ceramics producers. Demand for wood wool for ceramics has declined as the manufacturing output of the Potteries has declined in the context of global competition, but another specialist product currently made by G&T Evans are receiving a new lease of life – Nissen Huts. These are a type of curved-roofed steel building formerly used by the British army as barracks and now put to uses including workshops, storage sheds and holiday chalets. However, a more unusual recent customer were the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust who, as part of a restoration project to fully restore the Port Lockroy research base to its 1962 condition, bought a Nissen Hut from G&T Evans to replace one of the base’s originals. Getting the hut from Newtown to Antarctica was all fairly straightforward according to Mr Evans!
The new Nissen Hut installed at Port Lockroy, Antarctica 2013
From Welsh flannel and floral dresses, through to climbing gear ascending the heights of Yosemite, forklift trucks in Burundi and Nissen Huts in Antarctica, Newtown has always been global. Its products continue to be sold around the world yet perhaps the ‘Newtown brand’ is less prominent than in the past. Large companies and employers, such as Pryce Jones and Laura Ashley, developed a global reach and presence and in doing so became synonymous with broader perceptions of the town itself. What we see when we look at other business stories is a tale of everyday globalization – of globally connected enterprises trading on what they do rather than where they are.