By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Ioxus was going strong, with manufacturing plants here and in Japan, and a growing reputation as producer of the best ultracapacitor in the world.
Then, in 2019 it hit a bump: Its best-selling product, uSTART, a “smart power system” that “dramatically increases the starting reliability of trucks and heavy machines,” had to be recalled.
“That set us back,” said Walton-born Chad Hall, Ioxus co-founder and senior vice president, interviewed last Thursday, Nov. 19, on the second floor of the futuristic former National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Suddenly, Ioxus was in trouble.
“The salesperson I dealt with at the time reached out and basically gave me a heads-up,” said Scottie Johnson, president of XS Power Batteries in Knoxville, Tenn. Ioxus’ major customer, XS had been selling the Oneonta ultracapacitors under its own private label for half a decade.
“’You may need to look for another supplier,’” the salesman told Johnson. “He mentioned, ‘By the way, you may want to throw your hat into the ring.’ So I did.”
March 30, XS bought Ioxus. Since, “we’ve been working hard to outline a new product offering and to revitalize some of the existing product offerings,” said Johnson.
Mark McGough, Ioxus president for the past decade, assisted with the transition. Then, in August, he joined Hartland Controls, manufacturer of electronic equipment in Rock Falls, Ill., as president/CEO.
Meanwhile, uSTART has been redesigned and customers restocked. “The previous customers we had have all come back,” said Hall, and Ioxus will be marketing the improved product in “Q1.”
Reached in Knoxville the next morning, Johnson, who had just returned from here the afternoon before, said, “It was a great visit. Everything is going very well.”
All of this has Hall, who helped develop the original product and the company’s name – Ioxus is associated with “power” in ancient Greek – is looking to the future enthusiastically.
“We need to grow our footprint” in Oneonta by another 30,000-50,000 square feet,” he said. “There’s plenty of room here; it was designed to be expanded. And we would want to do that here.” (In addition to headquarters at Stadium Circle, the company has a plant on Corporate Drive in the nearby Oneonta Commerce Park, and a third in Karatmatsu, Japan.)
The company also is planning to expand its workforce from 35 to the “mid-50s” in the first half of 2021, he added.
Virginia and South Carolina will say, “Hey, we’ll build to suit, free for five years,” Hall said. “It’s hard to compete with that.”
Nevertheless, he said, Otsego Now, the local economic-development group, has been working New York State’s system for the money that is available, and obtained a $1 million Excelsior tax-credit award.
Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky, who briefed Common Council on the project earlier this month, said the local IDA board approved a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement, which, once Ioxus buys the building, would phase in property taxes over 10 years.
The IDA (Industrial Development Authority) also gave the company a sales-tax exemption on equipment purchased, and an exemption from the mortgage tax when the building is purchased.
NYSEG has agreed to provide low-cost power to the plant, and the Oneonta Town Board has agreed to
take over and maintain Brown Street, as well as Stadium Circle, which leads to the plant. And the Otsego Chamber prepared a list of homes on the market that would be available to executives brought in.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s chief of staff, Mike Lynch, called Scottie Johnson to pledge the senator’s support.
“Given that we’ve been in a pandemic,” Zakrevsky said, “we’ve been very challenged. “April 1, I met with Scottie. There were just the two of us in the large conference room at Ioxus. Everything else has been done by emails and phone calls.”
He added, “the state has a major deficit. Most of the grant programs that would apply just don’t exist right now.”
Last time Zakrevsky visited Ioxus – incidentally, there are 100 framed patents in the lobby – there were two contractors preparing estimates on the construction.
“We are competing on a global scale,” said Hall. “And we want to stay in Oneonta. With Custom Electronics also making ultracapacitors – its president, Mike Pentaris, was Ioxus’ founding president – Hall called Browne Street New York State’s “Corridor of Capacitors.”