A Japanese-owned company that makes highly sensitive measuring instruments said yesterday it will build a training center for customers at its Columbia plant that should eventually draw 1,500 visiting scientists and technicians from around the nation annually.
"The business we are in is highly competitive. We see the training center as very important in our long-term strategy for customer satisfaction and marketing," said Shigehiko Hattori, president of Shimadzu Scientific Instruments Inc.'s Columbia plant.
"In Japan, our customers seem more hardware-oriented. Their main interest is in getting the very best instrument. In the U.S., we've found our customers want support. They want their employees to be trained how to use the instruments correctly."
Construction of the 46,000-square-foot training center, which will cost $5 million to build, is expected to be completed by January. Shimadzu currently has 60,000 square feet of space at the Columbia facility, which handles manufacturing, quality control, distribution and sales.
The company makes instruments for analyzing and measuring trace elements of almost anything. For example, it makes "total organic carbon instruments," typically used by utilities and local governments, to keep tabs on the contents of drinking water.
Shimadzu's seven U.S. offices offer customers some training in the use of its instruments. But two years ago, Mr. Hattori said, company executives began exploring the idea of a central training site that would employ a staff of training specialists -- something none of the regional offices now has.
"Today, we can handle 10 people coming in a week for training. When the center is open, we'll be able to handle 50 a week," he said.
In its first year of operation, Shimadzu expects 300 scientists and technicians to attend courses at the new center. By the third year, the company expects the number to rise to 1,500.
Curt Matthews, director of the Maryland International Division at the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, said he was unaware of any similar training center among Columbia's high-tech firms. But creating training programs for customers has become increasingly common in the high-tech field, he said.
Mark L. Wasserman, Maryland's secretary of economic and employment development, said the new training center will have a positive effect on the area's economy, generating business for hotels, restaurants and car rental companies.
Training courses in the new center probably will start in April, Mr. Hattori said.
Customers, which include the pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories and the National Institutes of Health, will be charged between $500 and $1,000 for each employee in a training course, which typically will run for a week.
The Columbia plant, in the Rivers Corporate Park, was chosen for the training center because "it had the best location," Mr. Hattori said.
"The Baltimore-Washington area is very easy to access from almost anywhere in the country because of the airports and Interstate 95," he said.
"Also, most of our customers are on the East Coast between Boston and Georgia and Texas," he said.
The expansion will initially generate 10 new jobs at Shimadzu's Columbia operations. Most of the new jobs will be in the area of technical training, said Jane Jung, secretary to Mr. Hattori.
Shimadzu, which had a 1992 net revenue of $37.5 million from its U.S. operations, currently employs 125 at the Columbia plant.
Within three years, the company expects the expansion to create 50 additional jobs. Most of the jobs created will be in manufacturing.
Ms. Jung said a portion of the expansion area is targeted for use as warehouse space. The warehouse area currently in use will be converted for manufacturing, she said.
Shimadzu set up operations in Columbia in 1975. Mr. Hattori said the company owns approximately 18 acres next to the Columbia plant for possible expansion.