National Guard connections boost Sanford business's foreign contracts

Feb. 27, 2014 @ 04:58 AM

One local company is establishing ties with business leaders in Botswana, having met with the African country's ambassador to the United States last week.

Alotech, a manufacturing and machining plant on Horner Boulevard, had Vice President of Sales and Marketing Francis Chester pitch the company's services to Ambassador Tebelelo Seretse, as well as the country's military liaison, Col. Bruce Thobane, on Thursday.

Chester said nothing is set in stone yet from the meeting, but he's optimistic that it will prove to be lucrative.

"It's too early to be concrete, but we have, for instance, received a referral from [Seretse] to a company that operates in a number of countries in the southern part of Africa," Chester said. "They're involved in luxury safari accommodations, and they've expressed an interest in some of our capabilities."

Those capabilities include water purification systems. Chester explained that water can be very expensive in remote parts of Africa — such as the places one would go on a safari — because of drought conditions and the expense of trucking in water.

Botswana is located just north of South Africa. Described by the CIA as having "one of the most stable economies in Africa" due to equally stable political rule, Botswana is the world's largest diamond producer and also serves as home to much of the Kalahari Desert and several game reserves within the desert.

The country has an official partnership with the North Carolina National Guard, hence the visit which Chester said was organized by N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. Also at the meeting were the commander of the N.C. National Guard and a representative from the U.S. Department of State.

The N.C. National Guard also has a partnership with Moldova, from which Chester said Alotech also has benefited, receiving a contract to help improve heavy-duty machines that remove land mines from that Eastern European country, as well as dozens of other countries.

Chester, a veteran himself, is on the board of directors of the N.C. Defense Business Association. He also serves as chairman of the association's Manufacturing Committee. He said that group, along with the state National Guard's partnerships, have helped Alotech immensely.

The government of Botswana officially established ties with the N.C. National Guard last year, which the National Guard called unexpected but welcome. There are four branches to the partnership: business, government, wildlife and military.

"The significance of the event was the unprecedented level of partnership on behalf of Botswana," The N.C. National Guard wrote in announcing the partnership. "Their actions demonstrated a true commitment by the country to appreciate the value they see in the relationship with North Carolina."

Groups have crossed the Atlantic Ocean on visits, with North Carolinians touring an emerging technology innovation center in the capital of Botswana. Citizens of Botswana came to Raleigh to study the connection between Research Triangle Park, public universities and private business.

But the partnership has trickled down from large cities into more rural areas, like Asheboro — where the Botswana military sent its senior animal handler to help advise the state zoo — or Sanford, with Alotech's potential partnership with safari companies in far-away deserts in need of purified water for their clients.

Alotech has previously provided water purification systems on both large and small scales, Chester said, through the company's missionary outreach work — helping a church in Cambodia purify water for up to 15,000 people every day and helping Haitian orphanages purify their own water, in addition to other charitable work in India, Uganda and Brazil — and they're now looking to capitalize on those experiences.

"One of our goals is to expand our market and increase exports," he said. "In the past, we have provided systems — water purification systems — overseas. But they have been part of our faith-based mission."