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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chuvashia's Promtractor Finds Niche

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CHEBOKSARY, Chuvashia — How does a region make money off oil, gas, gold and coal when it has no deposits of its own? Chuvashia does it by producing the equipment used to develop such deposits elsewhere.

Promtractor helps the Volga River republic of Chuvashia ride the coattails of more resource-rich regions by producing the bulldozers, pipelayers and other heavy machinery required to make use of such underground riches. After a rough spell in the 1990s, Promtractor — one of only a handful of companies worldwide, including Caterpillar, that make such equipment — is back on its feet, the company's management says.

"The entire economy begins with geology and our machines," said Andrei Barabanov, the company's marketing and sales director. "We are a keystone in Russia's economy."

The company's upswing can in part be attributed to a renewed push to sell machines abroad in recent years, Barabanov said last week. Among the company's major new clients are India, Iraq and Iran. In the near future, Promtractor hopes to dedicate 10 percent of its production to export, he said.

The sprawling factory, built in the early 1970s when the Soviet Union began actively exploiting deposits in Kazakhstan and Siberia, was buzzing with activity on a recent visit. Inside one shop, a mixed salad of school-bus yellow and metallic gray, an occasional human being could be seen moving among the mechanical dinosaurs or climbing aboard one to test the engine.

Viktor Novikov, the factory's chief designer, said production peaked in 1990 with 2,150 machines. After that, the company slid into a rough period when much of the factory stood dormant and thousands of workers were laid off. Novikov said that initial shock cost the factory many of its most qualified specialists, who fled to other companies.

Novikov proudly showed off the giant machines, which can work both in the desert sun and in temperatures as cold as minus 50 degrees Celsius.

"In the places where our machines work, they take the place of explosives and drilling," he said.

Unlike Caterpillar, which also produces agricultural equipment, Promtractor produces only high-tech industrial machines. Novikov said the factory is not equipped to make cheap, assembly-line products. Promtractor, which employees 14,500 people, currently produces an average of one machine a day. The company has contracts to produce about 360 machines this year, Novikov said.

"About 500 or 600 a year — that, I think, is what's needed in order to completely meet Russia's needs," he said.