Muhlbauer Checks In

High-Tech firm Jefferson Center's first private tenant

Muhlbauer Inc. could be the start of something big, local leaders say.

The machine-making company will be the first private tenant of the Jefferson Center Research and Development Park. Officials of Germany-based Muhlbauer High Tech International broke ground Friday on a plant for its U.S. subsidiary.

Peninsula officials are hoping it will attract other high-tech firms to the park's 200 acres, to develop links with the neighboring Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

Muhlbauer will invest $3 million in the first phase of the plant, which will create a 20,000-square-foot building with 50 jobs, across from Canon Virginia Inc. Overall, Muhlbauer expects to invest $20 million, expand the plant to 160,000 square feet in four stages and employ 150 people.

"We have big, big plans for the future," said Donald Joyce, president of the U.S. subsidiary. "We feel we're here at the right time, at the right place."

The company will make machines that are used to produce "smart cards," such as prepaid telephone cards and credit cards that contain computer chips.

Muhlbauer set up the U.S. subsidiary and chose to build the plant to be closer to its customers in North and South America, said Josef Muhlbauer, chairman of Muhlbauer High Tech, which he began in 1981. Among its customers will be White Oak Semiconductor, a joint venture between Siemens and Motorola under construction in Henrico County.

Smart cards are more widely used in Europe than in the United States, but they're becoming more prevalent in the U.S. market, Muhlbauer officials said.

"With players like Motorola seriously exploring the market, I think it's going to drive the development," Joyce said.

Building the plant in Newport News will put the company close to the NASA Langley Research Center and the Jefferson Lab, Joyce said. "They have the technology that we need and want to take advantage of."

It will also give the new Jefferson Center the anchor tenant that local officials have been looking for, said Paul Miller, the city's director of planning and development. The research park is intended to strengthen ties between Jefferson Lab, research institutes and industry.

The Applied Research Center, which will house researchers from business and colleges, is already under construction along Jefferson Avenue. Land in the park is owned by the city and its school district, the Southeastern University Research Association and the College of William and Mary.

A marketing study recently conducted for Newport News pointed to companies that make semiconductors and photovoltaics as a "target industry" for the area, said John Munick, chairman of the city's Industrial Development Authority.