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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Breaking the mold


Photography by Bert Vanderveen

While working in the early 2000s at electrical connector manufacturer AMP (now TE Connectivity), Geoff Foster helped develop a patented seal used in tens of millions of new connectors that wound up in Ford cars and trucks. He received a $99 plaque, a nice gesture that also convinced him it was time to start his own injection-molding business. 

Sixteen years later, Foster has built a North Carolina  entrepreneurial success story. Core Technology reported revenue growth of nearly 300% in 2021, and even faster profit gains, aided by sales of millions of plunger rods used to deliver COVID-19 vaccines. The company projects sales of more than 100 million rods in 2023. Previously, most revenue had stemmed from supplying vehicle manufacturers.

Much of the company’s growth has occurred since its move in 2018 into Gateway Research Park, a partnership of Foster’s alma mater, N.C. A&T State University, and UNC Greensboro. 

Foster, 55, gives much credit for his success to N.C. A&T, which attracted him from New Jersey in the mid-1980s. He’s taught classes at the school for 17 years and started hiring its graduates in 2008. He also has an MBA from Wake Forest University.

Retaining staff is crucial for the company’s success, Foster says, which is why he sponsors annual employee appreciation trips. Previous locations have included Cancun, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. 

Comments are edited for length and clarity.

Is the labor shortage moderating? How have you adapted?

The labor shortage has improved, but we have also raised our standards significantly due to the higher quality expectations of our customers. We now send employees to blueprint reading courses, partnering with Guilford Technical Community College. Entry-level operators are able to hit the ground running and not just put parts in a box. We have also been supported by N.C. State University’s Industry Expansion Services group with training for medical devices, internal auditing and other requirements to meet various industry standards.

Is Greensboro’s Gateway Research Park a good location for your business?

The park has been a great partner. They have supported our exponential growth when Core Tech doubled our capacity during COVID-19. Gateway also submitted a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, while the local city government matched with an additional $750,000. Our plans are to break ground in the first quarter of 2023 with the next phase of our expansion.

How have you funded your growth? 

Initially, we worked with banking institutions and took out Small Business Administration and capital equipment loans. We are now funding the projects internally and do not require bank loans.

Will Toyota expansion near Greensboro benefit your business?

We have been in meetings and panel discussions with Toyota and believe we can add immediate value as a supplier as we produce about 1 million parts annually for BMW for their hybrid vehicles. Our location logistically makes sense with regards to the ecosystem and having Tier I supplier experience. Since 2015 we have been shipping to Germany, China, Russia and South Africa for BMW. Having a Tier I automotive supplier within 30 minutes of the Toyota battery facility would help reduce shipping costs.

Is your strategy to pursue rapid growth or more slow, sustained advances?

I expect controlled growth in biopharma, while the mobility space with automotive sustainable materials will be rapid. Our customers are looking for our innovation with sustainable materials like hemp, allowing us to supply parts that are lighter in weight and stronger. This is already being done in Europe, and we want to bring this to North America through our work with BrightMa Farms in Charleston, South Carolina. Three universities are supporting us with research and development: N.C. A&T, Clemson and South Carolina State.

What is your take on the economy?

Economic experts are predicting a recession, but we are diverse and grew from 5% biological pharmaceuticals to 60% since COVID-19. Our growth is with the biopharma companies including Merck, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, and the heavy truck industry with Volvo and Mack Trucks and Volvo Cars. With our diverse portfolio, we have grown at an exponential rate over the last few years. Snap-on Tool recently became a new customer.  

Who have been your key career mentors?

Dr. Harold Martin Sr., chancellor at North Carolina A&T State University, and Willie Deese, former vice president of Global Manufacturing at Merck.

What is the most fun part of your work?

Bringing aboard new employees who do not have a background in plastic injection-molding or advanced manufacturing, and “molding” them into valuable employees and watching the light come on. Also, we started “Molding Kids for Success” last year, which is a registered 501(c)(3) that offers a free camp targeting middle-school children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have worked with the Greensboro Housing Authority to identify children who have STEM interest and might not be able to attend a STEM camp. One of my strongest graduates from North Carolina A&T during my 18 years as an adjunct professor is Brandon Frederick. He is a project engineer at Core Technology and program administrator for “Molding Kids for Success.” Brandon understands the mission of exposing these children to STEM and being a role model. Brandon is obtaining his MBA from N.C. State University and applying what he is learning to get traction for this effort throughout North Carolina.

What do you find most challenging?

Those who do not dream, have goals and want to reach for the stars. This is a quote from former Morehouse College President and civil rights leader Benjamin Mays: “It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach for the stars, but it is
a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is a sin.”

How is the experience of working with your wife, Tonya, at the business?

My wife came aboard full-time four years ago. Working hard together and staying in our own lanes has helped us work successfully together. We are both good at different things and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We are intentional about leaving work at work at the end of the day and do not bring it home and talk about work at the house.

Do you have other family members  in the business?

Our son, Jeremiah Foster, is in business development and joined the company in June after graduating from N.C. A&T in 2021 and later completing his last baseball season. He has helped grow relationships with our existing customers and build new ones with customers that have come on board in the last year. While obtaining his MBA from UNC Greensboro, he is able to apply what he is learning in real time.

 

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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