By Scott Wright

A HAWICK-BASED manufacturer of fibre network cabling is gearing up for a major push into the US market as it makes the final preparations for the opening of its first factory across the Atlantic.

Emtelle is putting the finishing touches to a 300,000 square foot manufacturing site in Fletcher, North Carolina, from where it plans to significantly build its position across North America.

While the company, which in Europe supplies major internet service providers such as BT, Virgin Media, CityFibre, Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Glasfaser, has been selling into the US market for around 20 years, the new factory will allow Emtelle to sell its products and solutions with a “made in America” tag for the first time.

A managing director was recently hired to lead the US operation, where recruitment is under way for up to 200 jobs at the site.

The strategy in the US is to target “tier two” companies and build business on a “state-by-state” or regional basis, rather than going for the major nationwide names such as AT&T and Verizon.

“That will help us get into programmes that access the federal funding that is going to be released in 2023, so we thought we had better get across there and take advantage of that,” said Emtelle chief executive Tony Rodgers “Also, because we have been selling into North America for about 20 years, there is a lot of equity in the Emtelle branding, so we are quite well known. Believe it or not, we are taking a technology to the US – micro-ducts and air-blown fibre – that is relatively new to them.

“They are probably about 10 years behind Europe in their deployment of fibre networks and they are probably about 15-20 years behind Europe in the technology used to deploy blown-fibre networks.”

He added: “We have got a fantastic facility in North Carolina. Coincidentally, North Carolina just happens to be the hub in North America for fibre-optic development and fibre-optic deployment. You have got all of the big international businesses there; all of the big fibre makers within a two-hour drive. It could not have turned out better if I had planned it.”

Emtelle, which began life supplying PVC primary ducts to the General Post Office in 1980, makes equipment such as plastic ducts holding fibre optic cable that connects telephone exchanges to, ultimately, individual houses, as well as products such as connectors.

“We do the full solution from exchange to house and everything that goes with it,” Mr Rodgers said. “But we only do what they call the passive piece; that is the non-active piece. The bits we put together make the fancy electronics at each end work. But we do not do the fancy electronics. That is what they call the active piece that has all the software installed.

"The easiest way to describe it is that it is plumbing for fibre-optic cables.”

The company’s US plans are the latest stage in an international strategy that now sees it sell products into around 100 countries. It has around 800 employees, who work across its manufacturing sites (Hawick, Denmark, Germany, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and North Carolina) and other sales locations around the world.

For a Scottish business based in the Borders, where it employs 100 people in skilled jobs, the scale is impressive.

“The fact you have probably got the worldwide technical leaders in the deployment of fibre-optic networks coming out of the Borders is extraordinary. And I think that is down to the team that has been established long before I arrived. I have been with the business for only eight years, but the guys have been developing, inventing, and investing in this technology for the last 30 years. We really do have a cadre of person and a team of specialists based in the Borders, in air-blown fibre and fibre-optic networking, that is second to none anywhere in the world.

“I think it is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets in terms of manufacturing industry and technical excellence.”

Mr Rodgers, an accountant to trade who qualified with BDO, worked for the now-defunct Penman Engineering, a military vehicle manufacturer in Dumfries, prior to joining Emtelle. He was approached initially to join as chief financial officer, a role he held for five years, before becoming chief executive.

In 2021, the company, which is domiciled in the Netherlands, turned over €212 million. This year it is on target to turn over €430m, while for the following year Mr Rodgers said the company is forecasting to lift revenue to above €500m.

Asked what was driving growth, Mr Rodgers said: “Everybody now expects a data connection in their home, and therefore countries have been forced to accelerate the roll-out of fibre-optic broadband to every single person’s home. I think that took on a new light within Covid times, because of all the home working. If you don’t have proper network and data provision in your home, then it is impossible to facilitate that, along with all the home learning that was being done.

“I think people realised you could just about get a decent connection if you were in city centres and the well-served suburbs. But as soon as you went to a rural environment, you really were struggling.

“And I can tell you, if you think the UK is bad, there are many countries in the world, in Europe and the Americas, that are miles behind us. [In] the US there is probably going to be 10 more years of a really vibrant market. In Europe, probably seven to eight years; Africa, 20 years; and south-east Asia, they haven’t really started with their blown fibre and roll-out yet.”

He added: “People now look at it as the fourth utility. You have got electricity, gas, water and data.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?
Any country in south east Asia. They are all very technically advanced, but still with that raw, unpredictable edge. 

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
I wanted to be a TV repair man. I was fascinated by the television.

What was your biggest break in business?
Buying Penman, the military and specialist vehicle business.

Who do you most admire and why?
My grandparents, they raised me when they didn’t have to and installed old school values in me.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
Reading From Third World To First by LKY Lee Kuan Yew. Listening to Billy Joel, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbot.