West Virginia company expanding mine equipment business - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

West Virginia company expands mine equipment business

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A familiar face on the surface of the state's coal mines has just opened a new underground division.

Walker Machinery in West Virginia and Whayne Supply in Kentucky will be selling and servicing Caterpillar's line of underground coal mining equipment. The company celebrated with an announcement Nov. 1, the first day distributing the new equipment.

"We have been working closely with Caterpillar for several months to make this transition a success. This new business unit will be integrated into our current Whayne and Walker operations. We look forward to providing these new mining products and support in our area," said Monty Boyd, owner and CEO of Boyd Company LLC, the parent company of Walker Machinery.  

Boyd bought Walker Machinery in 2010 from the Walker family who started the business. The company has sold Caterpillar equipment for nearly six decades.

Caterpillar purchased Bucyrus International in July 2011. Whayne-Walker will continue to service customers of Bucyrus.  

"Caterpillar and its dealers keep customers at the forefront of everything we do and that couldn't be more true for the global mining business today," said Steve Wunning, Caterpillar group president with responsibility for Resource Industries. "We are very pleased that Whayne Supply and Walker Machinery are going to play an integral role in what we believe is a high-growth industry."

The new Whayne-Whalker underground mining division will be selling and servicing Caterpillar mining equipment with 38 employees, some from Bucyrus operations acquired in the deal. Boyd said he was looking to hire more employees as the company moves forward.

Previously, Boyd said, customers were buying the equipment directly from the manufacturer.

Caterpillar, however, he said, believes in a distributor system where local employees can more quickly respond to the needs of customers.

Boyd said Walker's business largely tracks the success of the coal industry and is already well-known among surface mining operations. The acquisition is going to greatly increase business opportunities for Walker.

"The mining industry in our area is split about 50/50 underground and surface," Boyd said. "Previously we only participated on the surface side of the business," Boyd said. "This acquisition by Caterpillar provide us a full line of underground equipment to offer to our customers plus a number of surface machines that we could not previously offer.

"It's easily twice the opportunity for us."

The company already spans about nine locations and employes more than 700 people.

With all of the talk about the decline of the coal industry, is Boyd worried about doubling down investment in industry? Not at all. Boyd said he believes the market is approaching stabilization.

"A large portion of our business is related to the mining industry, so certainly, our business is down with the rest of the industry," Boyd explained.  "We track that, but we look at this acquisition and we view it as a very long term purchase.

"We believe the long-term forecast for this market – it's a mature market, we're currently going through a decline because of market and regulatory issues were facing, but we believe long-term it will be a stable market, not a market that grows, but a stable market."

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the announcement, particularly from such a well-established company in the region, is welcome news. That the investment is also coming from Caterpillar, a global company, makes the news even better.

"It's very, very positive when you have a new investment in the industry, whether it be local, across the nation, or globally, and Caterpillar is a global company," Raney said. "They certainly, I think recognize, the significance of coal and how big a part it's going to play as we move forward."

Raney said the more additional technology and support that can be brought to Appalachia, the better.

"We definitely need that today as we look at more difficult seams to mine and more challenges in the industry," Raney said. "…Appalachian  coal needs some help, there's no question about it. The seams are more challenging, the mining conditions are more challenging.

"We're getting into the thinner seams, the less accessible seams. The need for technology and advancement along that line is very important."

Demand for coal worldwide is increasing, and people from around the world "want our coals," Raney said of West Virginia. Out West, thick seams of lower quality coal are easier to go after, but the desire for West Virginia coal isn't going away anytime soon.

"Appalachian coal has a very bright future, but it's going to take a lot of people pulling on the wagon to make that happen," Raney said.