Oberthur Technologies expands card-manufacturing in Exton

The next time you gripe that the product you just bought wasn’t made in America, remember that the credit card you used probably was. Maybe even in the Philadelphia area.

There are a lot of card manufacturers, and some with key operations here. Gemalto Inc. employs 300 in Montgomeryville. Sagem Orga USA Inc. is based in Paoli. And Oberthur Technologies of America Corp. has 400 workers in Exton.

Last week, Oberthur said it would transfer its Los Angeles card-manufacturing operations to Exton where it recently completed a $15-million expansion.

Oberthur provides government identification cards to more than 75 federal agencies, and it boasts that it’s the largest supplier of “contactless” payment cards.

Remember those Visa commercials in which food-court patrons dance and wave their cards in front of a device at checkout as in a Broadway production number only to be tripped up by someone paying cash? That’s contactless payment using radio frequency identification technology. Most of us still carry contact-payment cards with magnetic stripes that get swiped through a reader.

Using its new production equipment, the expanded Exton facility now can spit out 20 million cards a month, according to Garfield Smith, Oberthur’s vice president of marketing.

While manufacturing will cease in Los Angeles in March, that operation will continue to handle personalization services, which includes encoding information on those magnetic stripes and embossing customers’ names. Those losing their jobs in L.A. are being offered the chance to relocate to Chester County, Smith said.

Hasn’t the credit crisis crimped the card industry? As Smith put it, there is a “smaller pool of plastic going into the marketplace.” It’s been awhile since I read “you’ve been pre-approved” in the almost weekly direct-mail pieces pitching credit cards.

For that the reason, competition among the card makers has intensified as issuers demand “more competitive offerings,” Smith said.

And while it may be an American pastime to max out our credit cards, the high-tech minds behind the region’s card makers have European ties. Oberthur is based in France. Gemalto and Sagem Orga have headquarters in the Netherlands and Germany, respectively.