West Valley City • There is often a scramble to find hard hats for the ceremonial shovel pushers at ground breaking ceremonies.
That was not the case when Petzl America broke ground on a new facility in West Valley City in May. Not only were Petzl Vertex helmets easy to come by, but ice axes made by the company were also on hand just in case the traditional gold shovels were not enough to move the dirt.
Famous Austrian caver Fernand Petzl started the company in Crolles, France. Petzl America arrived in Utah in 1998 at the Freeport Center in Clearfield, which employs 53 people. Company officials say the new $20 million building in West Valley City will allow Petzl to expand its North American distribution.
Petzl has been running its North American operations out of the Freeport Center in Clearfield for more than 15 years. A need to expand and desire to design their own facility sent Petzl officials on the hunt for a new home to store and distribute the rope safety equipment and lighting technology recreationalists and professionals have come to expect from the company.
"We basically have redlined our warehouse. It was time," said Mark "Roody" Rasmussen, senior vice president of Petzl America. "This new facility gives us a chance to create our own home for at least the next 20 years and leaves us a little footprint to expand the warehouse to allow for growth."
The new 82,000-square-foot Petzl America facility (near 2929 Decker Lake Drive) is expected to be completed in February 2014 at a cost of around $20 million and will essentially double the square footage of the existing building in Clearfield. All of the more than 50 employees of Petzl America should be in the new building by May of 2014.
A 40,000-square-foot warehouse with a robotic picking system will take up the bulk of the new space, but a significant portion of the building will be used as a training area for people who use ropes and lighting technology for adventure and those who use it for work.
"Our new climbing structure includes a 60-foot climbing wall with a ledge to allow climbers and professionals to train in the most accurate environment possible," said Petzl communications manager Justin Roth. "The other side of the wall has exposed lattice and steel tower scenarios with cat walks to help with the training on the professional level."
Business for Petzl is split almost in equal shares between the recreational climbing world and what they call the rope profession world that includes search and rescue crews, arborists, wind power generator workers and steel tower maintenance crews.
After an earthquake in 2011, staffers were thrilled to see Petzl gear being used by the team checking out damage to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
Petzl also is proud of its efforts to help first-responders protect their lives. A fire in New York in 2004 claimed the lives of several firefighters who jumped from a building when a fire roared out of control. Officials from the Fire Department of New York wanted a device to allow self-evacuation from the windows of burning buildings.
"Basically they can break a window, hook the device on the windowsill or into a wall and roll out of the window and be attached to a rope," Rasmussen said of the EXO personal escape device Petzl ended up creating. "It allows them to lower themselves up to 50 feet to the ground or a ladder. We have heard that it has saved lives."
Petzl hosts about 20 extended professional training sessions annually for people from North, South and Central America at its Clearfield home. Ramussen expects the number of sessions to climb to about 60 a year in the new facility.
Roth said the new home will also make another of Petzl’s goals, connection with the local community, a bit easier.
"We hope to play host to recreational climbing clinics or competitions or allow others to hold them," he said. "We have also talked about holding film screenings."
Rasmussen said locations in Clearfield and Ogden were also considered, but West Valley ended up as the spot for a couple reasons. Among them: public transportation. There is a TRAX station located within a quarter mile either way from the new headquarters, which will be LEED-certified Gold or higher and will have an exterior that looks like Utah’s famous redrock.
Petzl never considered leaving Utah.
"This really is the home of the outdoor industry and Utah is a great place to do business," Rasmussen said. "The bottom line is that all of our employees love the natural beauty here and the recreational opportunities."
"In a way, I see this new building as the culmination of a long family dream to settle in the land of freedom," Petzl said in May. "I also see the building as another step in our goal to make Petzl the global benchmark for innovative climbing equipment and vertical rope access solutions."
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