Germantown — When LOH Optical Machinery set up on Morse Drive in Germantown in 1990, it wasn't by chance.
German-based LOH Holding, a manufacturer of optical grinding machinery, started the U.S. subsidiary LOH Optical Machinery in the mid-1980s. The North American branch first opened in Chicago. It didn't take long for the company to relocate to Germantown in 1990. Though the company has since changed names — now called Satisloh — and owners, the location of its North American headquarters has remained a constant.
This week, Satisloh, celebrated the grand opening of its new facility in the Germantown Business Park. The company moved from its location on Morse Drive in the village's Industrial Park.
In 2004, LOH was acquired by Satis Vacuum Industries, a Swiss-based machinery manufacturer of optical coating equipment. The two companies merged and were renamed Satisloh. The U.S. offices of each company also merged, becoming Satisloh North America. The company became a global leader of industrial equipment for making eyeglass prescription lenses and precision optics lenses. Subsequently, the Germantown office that serves as the North American headquarters doubled in size.
In 2008, Satisloh was acquired by Essilor International, a global leader in ophthalmic lenses and labs. Satisloh now has factories in Europe, Asia, South America and two in the U.S. The U.S. factories in California and Virginia report to the Germantown headquarters.
"I don't think people around Germantown realize that they have in their backyard the leading equipment company in the world for making eye glasses and we are doing some very high tech stuff," President and CEO of Satisloh Larry Clarke said. "Eye glasses are changing very fast right now and becoming more individualized and digital."
Planning for further growth
Satisloh is consistently seeking new employees, Clarke said. Consequently, their facility was bursting at its seams.
After adding to the building on Morse Drive a handful of times over the last two decades, Satisloh decided to relocate. Staying in Germantown was its first priority, Clarke said. Last week, the company relocated to 13131 Bradley Way in the Germantown Business Park.
The village's ties to the German heritage was a big reason the company made Germantown its American headquarters. The staff members, who all live in Germantown and surrounding areas, is a big factor in what is keeping the company there, Clarke said.
"We stayed in Germantown because we wanted to still be a Germantown company," he said. "With the employee base, we really like the work ethic and the customer-oriented work force."
Now that Satisloh has more office space, there are plans to break ground in fall on an adjacent piece of property to begin construction of a new, 5,000-square-foot training center for Satisloh customers.
The training center will teach customers how to make eye glasses using the manufacturing equipment in a more comfortable setting than was used previously.
"It's a good presentation for the company," Chief Financial Officer Gregg Gerschke said.
Some things at Satisloh will stay the same. First, the company will continue offering a work program for Germantown High School students. Every year, Satisloh works with school counselors to hire between one to three high school juniors to work part-time throughout the school year and summer, Gerschke said. They work mainly in the warehouse, he said, so the students "can get used to that type of environment."
"Not being in retail, it doesn't allow us to get into the community outreach as much, but we work with the high school," Gerschke said. "We try to make sure we have at least one high school student in the pipeline all the times."
Clarke said they have a few employees who were hired 20 years ago after graduating from Germantown High School who still work there.
"We have a lot of roots here," he said.
Business Park is growing
The Germantown Business Park sits in the last remaining tax incremental finance district in the village. Though it is growing now, the TIF district has had its share of struggles. A few years ago, the village was borrowing money from TIF No. 3, the Germantown Industrial Park, to help support the tax increment in TIF 4, Village President Dean Wolter said.
TIF 3 has since closed and the Germantown Business Park is self-sustaining, while maintaining a surplus, Wolter said. Economic Development Washington County has worked with the village during the last four years to offer various incentives to businesses. This has helped Germantown keep companies in the village and attract new ones to the business park.
"It used to be a park not covering our increment at all and now it's helping us maintain a surplus," Wolter said.
There are two, 20-acre parcels remaining in the business park on either side of Eisenhower Drive with a few smaller parcels scattered throughout that are vacant.
Once those are scooped up, Wolter said, "we have to start looking to the future and where to grow next."
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