By Charles Boothe
Sepember 16, 2022 - The Bluefield Coal & Mining Show is not only a means for industry companies to showcase products, it’s also a homecoming of sorts as long-lasting relationships are formed.
Brian Jones, vice president of marketing and sales for Indiana-based Matrix, which concentrates on mining safety products, said he has been coming to the show for 13 years.
“It gets everybody in the industry in one place,” he said. “Everybody seems to have a good time. We sit down and cook and eat and build a camaraderie here. It works out well for us.”
Jones said they develop friends from all around the country and the world.
“It’s always good to catch up with everybody when we get back here,” he said.
Matrix started out with communications and tracking systems, and that “grew us into West Virginia and Appalachia,” he said, adding that the technology led to “proximity systems,” mostly for underground continuous miners and other equipment.
Camera and lighting systems that revolved around safety are also available for above-ground equipment.
Jones said the company has created a “high-tech” world in mining, including a methane monitoring system brought in from South Africa.
A PLM (Power Line Modem) is coming out this year.
“It helps communicate from the miner back to the modem so you could put a hotspot on the miner if you wanted to and collect more data out of the miner,” he said, adding that it collects data related to what is going on underground and with the machinery.
It basically provides a full view of what is going on at the mine site, he said, as the company focuses on technology and what it can be used for.
“We try to focus on analytics as well, and that’s kind of a new thing for us,” Jones said, which is a matter of collecting and then processing data and what decision-making information can come out of that.
The company also sells equipment and, as other companies at the show have said, business has been booming.
Bruce Hunt is also with Matrix, and he has been to many Bluefield shows, always looking forward to seeing old friends and cooking for them.
Hunt is the most popular cook at the show, as Matrix offers food cooked in a huge cast iron pot outside, with a stew similar to Brunswick stew on tap Thursday and jambalaya offered Wednesday.
He said he smokes the meat for the stew ahead of time and then combines it with all the vegetables and sauces for a slow cooking process.
Hunt is also known for his appearance on the History Channel show "American Pickers."
“When my mother passed away, my brother and I inherited an old general store that my grandfather ran,” he said, adding that the store, in Cottageville, W.Va., had been closed in 1989.
“The American Pickers came down and shot an episode with us. It was very cool.”
Hunt said the show’s hosts are brothers and “a couple of the most down to earth guys you will ever meet in your life.”
“They were super nice and spent nine hours with us, just hanging out,” he said, and ended up purchasing several antique items from the store. “They dig through the old bins and if they find something they like, they purchase it from you.”
Both Jones and Hunt said they are already looking forward to coming to the next show in Bluefield.
“It’s a wonderful show,” Jones said. “We will be here.”
Jarrod Bailey, a Bluefield, Va., resident and former town council member, is executive vice president of a company located in Oak Hill called Highland Industries, which manufactures mining equipment.
“Highland has been coming to the coal show for over 30 years now,” he said. “The company started in 1988, and I think they have been to every coal show since then.”
Bailey said the company builds shuttle cars, feeder breakers and scoops, and also has a full-service parts division and engineering service division.
“We are the whole package,” he said. “We can build you the equipment, sell the parts for it and support it.”
Bailey said the company does business all over North America, South America, Australia and is doing some bids in India now as well as China. “We are all over the world now.”
“It’s all over the world but it is still running right through West Virginia before it goes there,” he said.
Bailey also said business has been good.
“It’s crazy right now,” he said. “We’re taking orders up until late 2023 right now, and it probably won’t be long until we will be looking at lead times up into 2024.”
Personnel and supply chains are still challenges, he said.
“People are not knocking down your doors to work,” he said.
Bailey said electronic components and other parts have long lead times in the supply chain, but it is getting better. “But it’s still not where it needs to be.”
That makes planning important, he said, because jobs must be scheduled based on what is expected.
Bailey said the coal show is not all about trying to sell products.
“This is an opportunity where you can see almost all of your customers in three days,” he said, “and they are not in an office environment. They are not busy and you don’t feel like you are taking up their time. They are here … away from work. They get to see a lot of people and enjoy themselves.”
Bailey said the networking is “by far the most important part of this show” and they walk around, talk to everybody, even competitors, and everyone is cordial and gets along well.
“People buy from people,” he said. “People don’t buy from a business because of their name or what they do. They buy from the person they have a relationship with. That is the key. You get to come here and strengthen that relationship and see people you have not seen in years. For me, that’s the most important part of it.”
It’s also important for Marc Meachum, former president of the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, who returned for a visit to the show.
“I try to come back and see all of the friends I made when I worked at the chamber,” he said. “That was 10 coal shows' worth. So a lot of these people I have known for a long time.”
Meachum said it is also great to see “lots of new faces.”
“The chamber continues to do a good job, and Bob (General Chair Bob Ramsey) and the committees are doing excellent work,” he said. “Debbie Maynard is just a stalwart with what she does.”
Meachum said as long as the area continues to support the show, the Chamber of Commerce of the Two Virginias will continue to do it.
“It’s a great thing for this area,” he said.