Acrow Corporation of New Jersey

The Company

Acrow Corporation based in Parsippany, New Jersey, designs, manufactures and supplies prefabricated modular steel bridges for infrastructure projects across the globe. Acrow’s modular steel bridges, also known as “Bailey Bridges,” were first developed during World War II with several criteria in mind: that they could be mass produced (utilizing modular steel components); transported easily and rapidly to the site in theatre; constructed quickly (within 24 hours in most cases) using little or no heavy machinery; and erected by soldiers with little or no engineering expertise. As soldiers liberated the European theatre, they built thousands of these Bailey Bridges, shortening World War II by up to two years by some historical estimates.

These bridges have evolved since then in both quality of design and flexibility of application. Today Acrow’s modular steel bridges are galvanized, lasting 75 years and beyond. In addition, most of Acrow’s business is within the civil sector, providing infrastructure solutions for the following applications: highways; rural and feeder roads; emergencies, railroads; mining; bypass bridging; pedestrian crossings; and many more. Acrow’s bridging solutions augment the infrastructure portfolios in the countries they serve, improving access to schools, hospitals, and greater economic opportunity.

Says Paul Sullivan, Acrow’s international sales manager: “Most of our work takes place in the developing world. Many of these countries have tremendous amounts of human capital that remains underserved due to a severe lack of transportation infrastructure. For instance within Africa, outside a 30-mile area around a coast or major city, it can be incredibly challenging to travel to or from the interior. This has a particularly strong impact on the agricultural sector, where farmers attempting to bring perishable crops to market find long delays due to poor infrastructure a major obstacle to their economic viability. By improving infrastructure, we also improve access to main economic arteries, a necessity for any long-term sustainable economic development,” said Sullivan.

Bridge by Acrow Corporation

Bridge by Acrow Corporation

The Challenge

Since it first began exporting years ago, Acrow has faced many challenges in the international market. For example, in many cases, the firm was looking to develop targeted leads of overseas partners seeking unique bridge technologies to resolve infrastructure issues. In other cases, Acrow was looking to meet key overseas government contacts, resolve roadblocks involving logistics, and navigate overseas government transparency hurdles or other impediments to exporting. For the last ten years, Acrow has successfully tapped export assistance, market briefings, and business matchmaking programs of the U.S. Commercial Service (CS) in Northern New Jersey and around the world, to do just that and more.

For example, when Sullivan was first pursuing the Chilean market, he dialed up the CS in Santiago, Chile, which then provided him with the appropriate introductions to Chilean Army officials. Sullivan then highlighted Acrow’s unique solutions and interest in helping the country recover from a major earthquake with one of the company’s proven emergency bridging solutions. By late June 2010, Acrow confirmed the sale of a $16.3 million, 1.4 kilometer bridge by Acrow to the Chilean Ministry of Defense, which was built in 81 days, reconnecting traffic flow over the Rio Bio Bio River in Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city. Earlier, in September 2009, Acrow had sought CS El Salvador guidance in selling bridges to the Salvadoran government. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Ida hit El Salvador, destroying 45 bridges. The U.S. Government conducted an assessment of the bridges and infrastructure damage, and made recommendations for repair and replacement. With help from the CS, Acrow’s Bailey Bridges were recommended as part of the solution. As a result, El Salvador’s Ministry of Public Works confirmed that it signed a $14.5 million contract with Acrow for the purchase of over 3 dozen bridges.

The Result

To date, Acrow has agents in many countries as a direct result of CS business matchmaking assistance. Acrow’s aggressive and savvy export strategies, backed by ongoing CS assistance, have enabled the firm to succeed in a tough economic climate.

Although the recession started in 2007, thanks to Acrow’s exports, the company has grown over 400 percent. Developing countries have been highly interested in the infrastructure upgrades as a cornerstone to sustainable economic development, particularly investments in roads and bridges. Such massive investment has led to Acrow’s modular steel bridges becoming a “hot product” around the globe. While some companies remain nervous of exporting, Acrow Corporation believes it’s the only way to go.

Exporting to over 60 countries worldwide, Acrow’s international success has affected both the United States’ domestic economy along with international markets and living conditions. In 2010-11, Acrow exported 100 bridges to Ghana, 151 to Angola, 36 to El Salvador, 20 to Mexico, and 24 to Peru. Such big ticket projects not only benefit the end-user, but also allow Acrow to directly add and maintain approximately 200 jobs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“Beyond our own factory, we also only use U.S. Steel, known to be the highest quality steel in the world, which indirectly affects steel mill workers throughout the United States,” says Sullivan. “Now when delegations from other countries visit our Milton, Pennsylvania factory, our workers are the first to shake their hands. Many employees have friends who have lost their jobs, but thanks to our export program Acrow has undergone massive hiring in the past four years.”

Export Tips from Paul Sullivan

Rather than worrying about the risks exporting may involve, Sullivan instead advises companies to look beyond the borders of the United States. “As long as you know your product and company, and have the intellectual curiosity and interest in genuinely learning the market and culture of the countries in which you hope to have success, you can excel in international trade,” says Sullivan. “Taking that extra step and truly involving yourself in the new culture will certainly help you succeed, and the results will be good for everyone-customer and supplier.”

“Making local connections is imperative in every country. In fact, most countries require a company to have local representation, such as an agent, distributor, lawyer or other representative. We have partners in almost all the countries we do business with.”

Acrow’s export business model is founded on the principle of intellectual curiosity, meaning that the company works hard to outwardly embrace the culture of each customer. For instance, Acrow representatives take the time to get to know the individuals. “It’s important to have a human touch when working outside of the United States; in many markets it is vital to develop a personal relationship prior to any attempt at discussing business,” Sullivan says.