Noise Solutions offers fracking a way to keep it quiet


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Pennsylvania's booming energy industry has attracted a closely held Canadian company that wants to make Marcellus Shale operators better neighbors.

Calgary, Alberta-based Noise Solutions currently employs 35 at its Sharon plant, a 55,000-square-foot building that formerly served as a warehouse for Winner International. The plant, which makes mufflers and other products that diminish industrial noise, opened in November and could employ 125 or more within three years, according to president Scott MacDonald.

Those prospects hinge on the health of the operators looking for natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale belts who account for about 65 percent of Noise Solution's U.S. business.

"The activity of their business drives our business," said Mr. MacDonald, 38, who founded the company with his father, Rod, in 1997.

The father-and-son team owns most of the company. A few key employees also own some stock. Mr. MacDonald declined to disclose the company's annual revenue, and he guards the company's noise-reducing technology -- marketed under the slogan "the science of silence" -- even more closely.

Noise Solutions designs and builds engine exhaust silencers and acoustic buildings that enclose fans, engines and other noisy equipment. The boxes use baffles filled with mineral fiber insulation that absorbs and deadens the noise.

The company plans to invest $5 million in the Sharon plant. That will include a pipe rolling machine to make the mufflers, a shear to cut steel coils to the appropriate sizes, a machine to bend the cut metal into panels that the boxes and buildings are made from, and a paint line.

The MacDonalds started the business because companies were facing tougher government noise standards. Acoustic engineers could measure the magnitude of the problem, but could not tell companies what to do about it, Mr. MacDonald said.

"There were very strict noise regulations, but there was no technology to deal with them. The opportunity was there," he said.

He said his 65-year-old father -- who had electrical, drafting and design skills -- came up with the solution. Scott MacDonald manages the business and operations.

Noise Solutions sells to mining companies, cement makers, power generation plants and the forest products industry. NASA even hired it to reduce noise made by the vehicles that moved the Space Shuttle to the launch pad.

For the most part, systems produced at the Sharon plant will be put to less exotic uses, such as muffling noise made by natural gas compressor stations. Such facilities are located along pipelines to remove impurities from gas and to maintain its pressure so that it gets to where it is supposed to go.

"We were getting a little bit of a push-back from our customers that they wanted a 'Made in the U.S.A.' solution," Mr. MacDonald said.

He said the company had looked in New York, West Virginia and in Youngstown, Ohio, before settling on Sharon. The location offers a skilled workforce, access to technology at area universities, and is convenient to interstate highways used to move Noise Solutions products.

Seven or eight tractor-trailers pull out of the plant each week "and we're just getting started," Mr. MacDonald said.

The company was courted by Penn-Northwest Development Corp., a regional economic development agency. President and CEO Randy Seitz said the agency met with the company about a year ago to get an idea of its real estate and other requirements.

It delivered a proposal 24 hours later, then worked with Noise Solutions over the next few months to work out all the loose ends. That included getting Penn State University to sell the company property that was adjacent to the plant and turning over a short street that runs along the plant to the company.

"Thousands of small details put together at the right time are what closes these deals," Mr. Seitz said. "Our job, if we're going to get the job done, is to find solutions to those hurdles quickly."

The state Department of Community and Economic Development gave the company nearly $813,000 in job training and job creation grants and tax credits. Noise Solutions is also receiving $2.1 million in state-funded loans.

Mr. MacDonald said depressed natural gas prices have hurt the company's business in the past.

Its Calgary plant, which employed 125 at its peak, currently employs about 70. The company also had operations in Australia that targeted the energy business and were eventually closed.

But Mr. MacDonald said the energy industry's long-term prospects remain attractive.

"We want to work with the oil and gas people," he said. "We want to be in close proximity to them."

Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.

Correction (Posted Feb. 9, 2014) An earlier of this version listed an incorrect location for operations that have been closed by the company.


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