Photos by John Coffman Photography.
By Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles about local manufacturing and global impact.
The Hall Company is a local, family-owned business with humble roots that now exports products to Israel, Japan, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Germany, France and Canada. President Kyle Hall said that since the fiscal year began in July his company has been trending at 29% international sales, which he said means the Hall Company will probably make more international sales in 2020 than in any year previously.
“Our largest trading partner is in Israel, so we do a lot of business with GE Healthcare in Israel, but they build stuff in different places, so we make these large sensors, and our sensors go on their call-meters they use for scanning. So we’re selling stuff that goes to their division that does gamma cameras,” Hall said. “They build a lot of them in the Netherlands.
We have a couple customers in the Netherlands, but most of the business in the Netherlands, they actually buy panels from us, so we’ll negotiate a contract with GE for the year… and some of them they ship directly to Haifa in Israel. Some of us they will tell us to ship to another company in Israel, and then some of them they’ll ship to the Netherlands. And those people who produce these call meters will attach our part and then they ship the entire thing. That’ll all GE Israel, but it still goes to different places.“
Hall explained that as an industrial printer, the company works in about five different segments including medical, aviation, industrial equipment and consumer products, most of which remain in the United States. But the percentage of international sales has been growing, particularly as Hall builds a relationship with General Electric, which has divisions in Israel, China, Japan and is growing and buying new companies all the time, according to Hall.
“Most of what we’re doing overseas is actually medical,” he said. “There are occasions where we sell aviation and some other things, because we have customers all over the place, but from a volume standpoint it’s really mostly medical, and that drives our business. Sixty percent of our business is medical in any given year. Probably 10 percent plus is aviation, we have another 10 percent that is probably industrial automation. A percentage of it is consumer products, and then we do stuff for scientific and testing equipment, anything you can think of. If you think about it, everything needs a switch, a sensor, an overlay, a nameplate or a label telling you what it is. Everything out there has something on it.”
According to the company website, The Hall Company has been providing world-class solutions to customers in the sensor, printed electronics and identification product markets globally since 1961. William D. Hall Sr., who was an aeronautical engineer by trade, founded The Hall Company in his basement in Urbana initially to serve the aerospace industry. The company’s initial product offerings included metal nameplates, foil labels, printed lenses and metal control panels. The Hall Company supported the budding space program by providing printed lenses and nameplates to the Gemini and Apollo space missions. As the company grew its engineering and production capabilities, it started producing graphical overlays and printed circuit boards.
“In the 1970s plastics hit the market, and that changed everything,” said Kyle Hall. “We started doing a lot of plastic printed overlays … Then in the late ’70s printed electronics hit the market and become one of our biggest businesses. We got one of the first patents in the United States for a membrane switch. It took off and became our largest volume business, and it still is today.
“We think we exported our first part in 1993, and that went to Hong Kong,” he added. “When my father (James) was around they did a lot in Germany, a lot in Japan, but our sales were at a lower level. They’re higher now, so back then it was probably a lower percentage of total sales.
Over the last several years it’s just really taken off, and it’s been by a couple customers.”
Hall said that today his company exports switches and high-tech sensors to companies all over the world, but particularly to General Electric, as well as an American corporation that does its manufacturing in Mexico.
“That customer moved their production from the United States to Mexico, so that’s not great for the American economy, but we were able to hold onto it, so it’s good from that standpoint,” Hall said. “We’re still exporting that … we’ve been doing business with GE for 40-something years and now pretty much when they need a switch like this anywhere in the world they just contact us.”
Hall said they began doing business with the Israeli Ministry of Defense around 2008, but had previously worked with a smaller company in Israel that now works with General Electric.
Kyle Hall is the third generation of his family to take on the role of company president, following his father James’s passing in 2008, and said he has seen the technology change even in his 11 years at the helm.
“We’ve looked more to digital,” he said. “We’ve gone from membrane switches to looking for a lot of capacitive technology - more of whole builds instead of just selling a switch or a circuit. We’re doing a lot more valueadded assembly. We’re looking at growing our current customer base and how we can really concentrate on expanding with them, and that’s going to lead to some new international things.
We anticipate our international business to double over the next five years, based on what our customers are doing, which would be very good for us.”
Hall is currently a member of the Champaign Economic Partnership’s board and says he tries to support them as much as he can.
“I think it’s a good entity for the county from an economic development standpoint,” he said.
“I think it works well. When the city was doing one thing and the county was doing another thing it was kind of all over the place, it was complex. So I think now that everyone’s pooled resources it makes sense.”
His company is also a member of the Dayton Development Corporation and Hall served on their board several years ago. The DDC hosted a seminar to introduce local businesses to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and to give them information about quoting and bidding services.
Hall said he was unable to attend the seminar due to a quality audit scheduled for the same day, but he did travel to Dayton to have lunch with Israeli representatives the next day.
“It was kind of just a meet and greet to see how we could partner,” Hall said. “I think they’re looking for whole pieces of equipment like cars and tanks and things like that, whereas we just make components.
But we got some ideas for how we can look at it, and we are registering with the IMOD to see if we could quote something at all, because there could be something we do that could be a replacement part or something of that nature.”
Last year, 21 percent of Hall’s international sales went directly to Israel.
Another 44 percent of sales went to the Netherlands, but Hall explained that most of those products will end up in Israel.
While Hall creates both tier one and tier two components, the company they work with in the Netherlands is a total second tier provider.
Hall said he has traveled overseas when it is necessary, but because GE is based in America it is often more convenient to have GE representatives visit Urbana. He said that GE moved a lot of their medical business to China a few years ago and no longer builds anything at their corporate offices in Milwaukee.
“Our international business is based off of long-standing relationships with companies that are just doing stuff overseas,” Hall said. “We do have smaller companies that will reach out to us, they’ll find us on the web and stuff like that, but it’s really more driven by GE and ComEd and Siemens and people like that.”
Despite Hall’s international ambitions, the company still hires a largely local workforce, has maintained a head count of about 35 employees at their local plant, and currently has open positions they are looking to fill. In this way, Hall hopes to strengthen the economy both for entry-level manufacturing specialists seeking a job, and for the country as a whole.
“The best way to fix an economy, whether it’s broken or just to improve it, is to make something here, send it overseas, and bring those dollars back here,” Hall said.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304