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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 30, 2017 5 years ago

Fertilize Growth

A Polk County business has overcome several challenges to expand globally. It also hits a milestone anniversary in 2017.
by: Elizabeth Morrisey Contributing Writer

Keeping an open mind to expand the business has helped ArrMaz go from a local Polk County startup to global leader in specialty chemicals for a variety of industries — from mining, fertilizer and asphalt to oil and gas.

The Mulberry-based company is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. Its grown from a handful of people to 400 employees, with customers in more than 70 countries. The company is also building a new facility in Mulberry for research and innovation.

The biggest sector of ArrMaz is fertilizer. Many of the company's customers convert phosphate rock into phosphoric acid, which the customers then use to produce phosphate fertilizer. ArrMaz produces specialty chemicals to assist customers throughout the process, from 'mine to market,' to optimize performance and product quality, says a company spokeswoman.

At a time when Florida was the sole source of phosphate, the ArrMaz founders saw an opportunity, and grabbed hold of it. Soon after that, company officials realized their technology could also be used in other industries, such as asphalt. ArrMaz sells its chemicals today to improve road quality, among other uses.

“Industries have changed and we had to change along with them,” says Chris Day, vice president of marketing and business development. “We are always developing new things and that's helped with the longevity of the company.”

ArrMaz is the combination of two companies. The first, Custom Chemicals, was founded in 1967 in Lakeland. It focused on production and supply of defoamers and flotation reagents for the phosphate industry. Nine years later, ArrMaz Products was established in Clearwater. Both firms rose to become leaders the fertilizer industry, merged in 2003 and became ArrMaz Custom Chemicals.

“It's a great business for us to be in,” Day says. “Everyone needs to grow food and eat.”

Day declined to disclose sales figures for ArrMaz.

Jeff Walker, vice president of corporate development at ArrMaz, says one of the keys to the success over five decades is the company puts a premium on responding to customers quickly. “The philosophy 'Your success is our mission' is a fundamental part of ArrMaz's DNA,” Walker says. “We strategically locate our production facilities close to where our major customers have theirs.”

Being closer to its customers has allowed ArrMaz to make product deliveries on extremely short notice, say company officials. The company works with many of the world's largest fertilizer producers, mining companies and asphalt manufacturers.

And ArrMaz is expanding globally. Its building a manufacturing facility in Morocco and has offices in places such as Brazil, China and Saudi Arabia. Helping the company expand globally is why Walker came on board in 1997.

“Fertilizers are produced and traded globally,” he says. “It became apparent that much of the future growth in phosphate production would likely be happening outside of the U.S.”

Global expansion came with another set of challenges, particularly in learning how to properly support the growth, says Walker. “We realized we had to evolve from a company which simply did a certain amount of export business through satellite operations, to a truly global company with more decentralized decision making, and business and technology development efforts at the local levels of our international operations,” he explains.

He says they also had to create and utilize more rigorous business processes in the areas of business development, customer relationship management, succession planning and marketing. In 2015, the company also launched an oil and gas business unit, which offers a silica dust control proppant coating technology for hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States.

Despite global expansions, Central Florida is still home to a lot of the company's business. “It makes sense to be based here,” Day says. “We continue to grow in Polk County.”

(This story was updated to reflect the correct number of countries where ArrMaz has customers; what many customers do with the phosphate rock; and the location and strategy behind an oil and gas business unit ArrMaz launched in 2015.)

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