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Wood entrepreneur thrives in new home

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

PHILIPPI -- Given a railroad spur and some truck-worthy highways, Philippi has become the center of the universe for Mark Carrico, state exporter of the year.

In less than two years, Carrico and his partners at West Virginia Hardwood Components Group have built a client list in the United States, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Holland and Norway. They are now eyeing the Pacific Rim as a third global market for the hardwood parts they rough-cut for household trim and cabinetry manufacturers.

"Our ideal target market is one-third Europe, one-third Asia and one-third in the U.S.," said Carrico. "Then, if any region of the world has a recession or an economic downturn, we can modify."

So far, the business' exports have fluctuated between 10 percent and 33 percent of sales. They use trucks to ship to European-bound sea ports in Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. A newly installed railroad spur is intended to open the market to the American West and ocean ports to Asia.

Awed by the company's quick entry into exporting, Carrico joked of how he and partners Greg Jones and Chris Smith tapped into a number of government and private loans to get started. All three men are North Central region natives and had previously worked in the wood industry.

"Never in the history of investment banking has anyone ever borrowed so much with less than we did ... I joke that we borrowed $1.5 million on our good looks and charm but it was really on our resumes."

Their diverse experience -- Carrico in financial administration, Jones in production and Smith in sales -- was critical as the men simultaneously launched domestic and international shipping efforts in 1999 with only 16 workers.

Carrico, who said he won the Small Business Administration exporter award simply because he is the out-front person for a well-functioning team, noted the trio also had a lot of outside help.

"No one just wakes up one morning and says, 'I'm going to export.' ... You have to have a mentor, someone to hold your hand."

For them, it was a host of somebodies from city, county, state and federal government and private business.

Ironically, the same January week Carrico was told of his exporter award and named to a who's who list by the State Journal, a weekly business publication, the plant began a winter cutback.

He said the slowdown, which has caused a reduction in hours for most of the plant's 43 workers, has been sparked by two things. An increase in the value of the dollar has made American goods too pricey for the European market. Also, a cold winter has stalled construction in the South and South West, where the company can normally sell its products year round.

Carrico believes the market slump will be over when construction picks up.

"By May, when we're back up at full production capacity ... then I'll feel good about accepting this award," he said.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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