Global steel companies are all over the news these days, especially with US president Donald Trump on the verge of starting a trade war with China. But longtime NABC member, Remco Building Systems, specialized in steel, is not affected by this at all.. “We started working in Africa only eight years ago and now Africa accounts for roughly 40% of our exports,” said Erik van den Hurk, the company’s export manager, who has been with the company for 20 years.
Remco Building Systems, which is part of the Janssen de Jong Groep, designs and constructs factories, breweries and storage facilities, basically every type of company premises that involves steel. “We can construct every type of building, no matter what the facility is being used for,” said Mr. Van den Hurk.
The company, founded 45 years ago and hailing from the Dutch village of Nieuwkuijk, near ’s-Hertogenbosch, was originally only active in Europe and the Caribbean. “Through one of our business partners we landed our first African assignment in Gabon in 2010,” recalled Mr. Van den Hurk. “It became a successful venture, after which we started to see the full potential of the African market.”
Active in 8 African countries and expanding
The number of African countries where Remco Building Systems is active has now reached eight. “The country with the largest projects currently are: Nigeria, DR Congo and Ethiopia,” Mr. Van den Hurk explained. “Most of our assignments come from European multinationals that set up branches in Africa. Probably 80% of our business in Africa are assignments for European companies.” Examples of Remco Building Systems’ work are beer breweries in Kinshasa and Addis Ababa. “I am especially proud of our project in Addis Ababa. We first started there in 2013 with a brewery, but since demand surged at such a high speed, we are already expanding the capacity of the brewery for the second time now,” he said.
Employment of local staff
In Remco’s vision, local staff is preferably hired to carry out projects as much as possible, usually led by one or more supervisors from Dutch headquarters. “At our projects in Addis for example, we employ 30 people,” said Mr. Van den Hurk. “In some cases, we do also team up with local steel factories, but in general we see that the vast majority of steel for international projects in Africa is still being imported. Once demand grows significantly, I expect local companies to grow considerably, like we saw happening in Eastern Europe three decades ago.”
After Remco’s architects draw the design of the building, the construction is pre-fabricated, usually in Europe. After this, the materials are shipped to the nearest ports, and then transported to the construction site. “Completing the entire structure on site may take between 3 and 12 months,” explained Mr. Van den Hurk.
Competing on quality and meeting deadlines
Competition on the African steel market is rife. Especially in Ethiopia, which sees large industrial parks mushrooming, there are myriad opportunities in the construction sector. But most of those government-led industrial parks are currently built by Chinese companies, which compete with European companies. “But we believe we can still beat this competition by supplying the best quality on the market,” Mr. Van den Hurk said confidently. “So, we compete on the factors quality and timing. Our projects do get completed within the required timeframe, and that is not always the case with our Chinese or local competitors.” Remco Building Systems envisages a growth in Africa in the coming years, as Mr. Van den Hurk concluded: “Any country, as long as it is relatively stable, is of interest to us.”