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Title: New Business Development Company: Horizon Fuel Cell TechnologiesEducation: Bachelor’s in business, Ithaca CollegeMassachusetts to Missouri: Freelander came to the Ozarks in the early 1990s to bring to Marshfield the manufacturing operations of Worcester, Mass.-based  Come Play Products Co. The company is now closed, and the Nixa resident is engaged in product and business development through Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies. Contact: mfreelander@horizonfuelcell.com
Title: New Business Development
Company: Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies
Education: Bachelor’s in business, Ithaca College
Massachusetts to Missouri: Freelander came to the Ozarks in the early 1990s to bring to Marshfield the manufacturing operations of Worcester, Mass.-based  Come Play Products Co. The company is now closed, and the Nixa resident is engaged in product and business development through Singapore-based Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies.
Contact: mfreelander@horizonfuelcell.com

A Conversation With ... Michael Freelander

Posted online
What is Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, and how did you connect with the company?
It’s a company trying to build … cutting-edge technology and work its way into mainstream. (The company) is miniaturizing the hydrogen fuel cell as much as possible so that it has a home application at the consumer level. At this point, it’s still at the developmental level, though, (and the company is) able to (serve) the high-end market buyers such as Defense contractors (and) is in the process of working with … BMW and another company on a fuel-cell vehicle. … About three and a half years ago, I saw a miniature car for $150, listed (at) SkyMall. I said, “This is incredible, but the price is crazy, and no one’s going to buy anything at that price point.” I took it home, took it apart, and fooled around with it, and determined that we could probably manufacture it for $9 to $12. If we had enough volume, we could probably get it down to about $8 with a retail price of about $20, to get it to mass merchants.

What products have you developed with Horizon?
The first was a miniaturized device that was about $30, but we couldn’t bring it to the market because there were some legal issues with the people who previously developed the pure fuel-cell car. So I went back to the drawing board. People get excited when you talk about fuel cells, but they have no clue what a fuel cell is. Everyone gets excited about renewable energy, but still, they don’t know what it is. ... We created a whole line of wind-powered, solar-powered, hydroelectric-powered devices. … The whole process tried to target a younger age group. (The concept) is pretty simple, once you understand how power is generated. … If you take a magnet and rotate it in a coil of wires, it can generate power. In a small windmill, you take a small magnet, and rotate it in a coil of wires, and the faster you spin it, the faster and more power you’ll generate. … We have them create the power that can flash a (light-emitting diode light) and charge a small car with … a rechargeable battery. The EcoRacer (miniature remote control line) is what we ended up developing.

What are your distribution channels for the EcoRacers?
At SkyMall and a couple other dot-com accounts, and in the Wal-Mart International division.

What is your background in manufacturing?
I was raised in the toy industry, and I loved toys and their design. My father had (Come Play Products in Worcester, Mass.), and it just got passed on. (Come Play) started in 1948 in Worcester, Mass., (and) I bought the business in 1990. We had a fully automated system for producing bowling sets, (and our plastic products included) shopping carts, basketball sets, and cleaning sets and food sets in mesh bags, with many items priced at about $5.

Why did you expand Come Play products to southwest Missouri in the early 1990s?
As I looked at the future and the expansion of our business, I recognized that there was a tremendous amount of freight for our products, and that the best opportunity to stay ahead of the competition was to be manufacturing in a second location … that was centrally located.

I started working with (leaders) of economic development all around the country, using transportation models for my statistics development. I ended up meeting with people from Jefferson City, who brought me to Marshfield, where I found a wonderful facility with a lot of acreage.. … From freight alone, I was able to go out to my buyers and present my same products … and show them a 6 percent savings by shipping out of Marshfield, where we had about 110 employees at our peak. We ended business in 2000.

Do you think you’ll ever return to local manufacturing?
We have a couple things in the works that I can’t necessarily disclose at this time. Each one has opportunities for mixing manufacturing here with manufacturing overseas. Small and intricate parts that are highly labor-intensive tend have to be done overseas. But when the quality control has to be looked over closely, that’s something where there are benefits to working in the United States.
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