To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the LaMotte Company held an open house on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 18 and 19. This was the first time in the company’s long history – which includes 63 years in Chestertown – that the public has been invited to tour. And hundreds showed up to get a peek at one of the biggest companies in Chestertown as well as a major player in the global chemical analysis industry.
Lamotte was founded in 1919 by Frank L. LaMotte, grandfather of the current managers, brothers David and Richard LaMotte. Frank LaMotte was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He worked at DuPont Chemical for several years but had always wanted to start his own chemical company. So in 1919, he left DuPont and returned to Baltimore where he founded LaMotte Chemical Products Company. The company focused on designing and producing portable analysis equipment. In 1956, LaMotte Company moved to Chestertown.
Over the years, LaMotte’s product line has evolved, but its primary direction has always been chemical analysis – beginning with the first domestically produced pH test kits in America to the company’s current lines of sophisticated water analysis equipment. Prior to LaMotte, all of America had to get their PH test kits from Germany. However, then in 1919, World War I was just over, and relations and trade with Germany were still tenuous. The time was right for Frank LaMotte to realize his dream and start his own company.
Now, 100 years later, a large number of residents took advantage of the opportunity to tour the expanded LaMotte plant, including your Spy reporters. The tour began in the company lunchroom, where there were refreshments catered by Uncle Charlie’s Bistro. A number of LaMotte employees were available to talk to visitors and to lead tour groups. There were also display boards giving information about the company and a video focused on LaMotte’s newest product line: its disc-based Spin Touch water analysis system. On the tables in the room were free samples of the company’s Insta-Test drinking water analysis kits so visitors can check out their home drinking water. (We took two – one to for upstairs, one for down.)
David LaMotte, who led the tour we joined, said the company’s sales growth is led by its new products, especially the Spin Touch discs – which accounted for 10 million units distributed last year and are expected to account for 12 million in the coming year. The new additions to the plant, completed last year, are dedicated to the production of the discs and the company’s test strips. “Everybody wants [to get results] faster and simpler, and we’ve been able to take a lot of market share from our competitors with our test strips,” he said. “It’s kind of changed the whole market.”
At each step along the tour, company employees wearing light blue shirts gave the visitors an overview of their part of the overall operation. There are currently 235 employees in the Chestertown facility, and the tours interacted with a fair number of them.
David LaMotte led the group through several areas of the factory, from the creative services and marketing departments through the warehouse, the manufacturing shops, and the board room, where his brother Richard LaMotte presented a video summarizing the company’s history. Spiced up with music and photos from each decade, the video showed the fads and icons of the era along with LaMotte’s products and other changes in the company.
The LaMotte Company now has an international reach, with distributors in numerous countries in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. The Asian and Australian markets are particularly important in the company’s growth. David LaMotte noted that opening up markets in the Southern Hemisphere means that the company’s water testing products, such as swimming pool test kits, have a year-round market rather than being confined to the European and American summer. In fact, Australia has become the biggest customer for the Spin Touch system, with 2 million units shipped last year to Australia. The success of the product has allowed LaMotte to add 60 full-time jobs.
The Spin Touch system uses a plastic disc about the size of a hockey puck with separate compartments for 10 chemical reagents. The discs can be set up to measure some 35 different factors, so there are a number of different configurations available, depending on the specific application. The discs are then read by a special machine that gives results of all 10 tests within a minute. Typically, a swimming pool supplies dealer would have the machines on hand and would be able to supply whatever product was needed to correct any problems the tests identified. The test results are automatically uploaded to computer databases thus allowing managers to remotely monitor water quality in real-time.
Given the LaMotte Company’s long presence in Chestertown, the tour was an eye-opening opportunity to learn something about one of our neighbors. We emerged from the tour with a new appreciation of how much the company contributes to the local economy – and how it makes Chestertown a player on the world stage.
LaMotte Company is located at 802 Washington Ave. in Chestertown, MD. For more information, call 410-778-3100 or visit the company website at www.LaMotte.com.