There's no better time than the Fourth of July to shine a spotlight on Independence.
In our case, that means searching for the word in Site Selection's New Plant Database. Lo and behold, over the past five years, there have been no fewer than 30 corporate facility projects in nine states with places named for this persistent American attribute.
Those projects (see selected projects chart below) offer as good a snapshot as any of the United States of America's past, present and future, often in the form of good old manufacturing and fabrication. The companies behind the projects are making products ranging from ice cream and tools to ammo and air conditioning.
There's Range Resources' activity in Independence Township, Pa., smack in the middle of shale gas territory in Beaver County, where to date it's drilled eight wells. Down in the Bayou in Tangipahoa Parish, Lamp Recyclers of Louisiana was accepted into the Louisiana State Enterprise Zone program last year with a nearly $2-million expansion in Independence, La.
Also last year, Vox Mobile, an enterprise mobility firm based in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio, invested half a million dollars and pledged to add 200 jobs to its payroll of 21, at an average salary of more than $47,000. That's a big jump in payroll, and it earned the company incentives from JobsOhio. The planned expansion came after the firm attracted a $7.5-million growth round of funding from Edison Ventures of New Jersey.
Travel down I-71 from there and you'll come to Greater Cincinnati, which encompasses Independence, Ky., just across the Ohio River. That community has recently welcomed major projects from control instrument maker Balluff (HQ) and from metal fabrication firm Augur Metal Products.
Or consider VT Hackney's $3-million plant expansion a couple years ago in Independence, Kan., where the longtime maker of specialized aluminum truck bodies and trailers added 70,000 sq. ft. and 70 more jobs to its 100-employee operation. The plant is the only place the company manufactures other than its home location in another patriotically named town: Washington, N.C.
The company's heritage goes back to 1946, when James A. Hackney and his son James A. Hackney, Jr. started the firm based on a family heritage in the transportation industry dating back to the 1600s in England, i.e. the original hackney. The company history explains, "soon after opening for business in 1946, the company quickly began specializing in truck bodies for delivery of consumer beverages."
You can practically hear Nat King Cole crooning about "those days of soda and pretzels and beer." Well, some of us can, anyway.
The Kansas project, announced in June 2011, had summertime written all over it: The company expanded its Kidron product line to build refrigerated truck bodies that service multi-stop food, dairy and ice distributors.
The summery vibe continues in Independence, Va., where a couple years ago Independence Homes, LLC, decided to invest a million dollars to begin producing modular cabins and cottages in the former Keiser-Roth building. The project was supported by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors, the Grayson County Industrial Development Authority, the Independence Industrial Development Authority and the Blue Ridge Crossroads Small Business Development Center. The units were targeted to Baby Boomers looking for affordable vacation homes, as well as those looking to add "in-law" or caregiver units to their existing dwellings.
Located not far from the highest peaks in Virginia in Grayson Highlands State Park, this Independence found the Site Selection spotlight a couple years ago when we talked to Dean Sbragia, founder and CEO of California-based Med-Fit Systems, which had purchased fitness equipment builder Nautilus in February 2010. Though Nautilus had moved much of its manufacturing to China and Taiwan over the years, it still operated a four-building complex in Independence.
"We did the cost analysis of all products as we were going through our due diligence, and I said, 'Gosh, let's take a harder look at it,' " Sbragia told us in "Back in the USA." "So when we hit the ground with the purchase in 2010, we brought manufacturing of our free weight products back to Virginia. It made sense for us to build in Virginia. We can build better products with better control of inventory at a lower price than we could build in China. We went through the same process with our elliptical equipment, which is more sophisticated and was built in Taiwan. We found we could build those machines better and have better quality control as well for less money."
The reshoring has only continued, with treadmill, upright and recumbent bike, and other manufacturing trickling back toward Independence, and the addition of manufacturing of the acquired SportKAT brand. Most recently, last December, the company added a new million-dollar piece of German-made laser equipment to its 300,000-sq.-ft. plant, and with it added between 15 and 20 jobs. "Existing manufacturing associates will also have the opportunity to learn a new skill and earn a higher wage," said the company.
"Worldwide demand for our products is strong," said Sbragia. "The addition of the new machinery and personnel will allow us to accommodate growth and produce even higher quality products. Our new 10 series cardio and innovative K2 vertical climber are major contributors to our growth, and the new Trumpf laser enhances our ability to expand both our strength and cardio production capability."
"We can compete with anyone in the world," noted Sean Smith, Med-Fit Systems' COO. "Our work force averages nearly 20 years' experience. We are already operational 24 hours a day Monday through Friday. With this latest expansion, we are now adding more employees and a third weekend shift, making our manufacturing facility open and creating American-made products for 140 of 168 hours each week. That is just shy of 24/7 and enables us to efficiently meet the demand for our product."
Smith continued, "With our laser work now in-house, we can create "inventory on demand", rather than ordering in bulk. This allows us to cut excess inventory costs and improve our already very strong ‘lean' ethic."
Greg Webb, vice president of engineering and a 32-year employee, put some numbers to that notion, saying what used to be a two- to three-week wait on a vendor had been reduced to one or two days by bringing the CNC equipment in-house.
"Morale here at the plant is high as our employees, many of whom have worked here for 30+ years, are seeing the company reinvigorated and investing another 1 million dollars into improved manufacturing," said Plant Manager Terry Hensley.
Middle America Mojo
Virginia's Independence is so far southwest that the only thing separating it from the Midwest is a mountain range. But its Middle American ethos, pioneering spirit and yen to make stuff are qualities the rural community decidedly has in common with other Independences — including those found in the geographic middle of the country.
Go to Independence County, Ark., and you'll find plenty of American ingenuity and industriousness at work. Located two hours from Memphis and the north/south I-55 corridor and only an hour and a half from Little Rock and the east/west I-40 corridor, the county, whose county seat and biggest town is Batesville, is close to the Mississippi River and the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad. The county passed a ¼-cent sales tax to support the University Arkansas Community College of Batesville in 1998, and has provided similar support to its economic development agency.
Among the growing companies in the area is Bad Boy Mowers, which has invested in plants in Batesville and nearby Melbourne. But food and fuel are the name of the game in the region. ConAgra Foods in April announced a 50-job expansion of its work force in Batesville in order to produce a new line of Marie Callender's brand breakfast sandwiches.
Sometimes food and fuel work together. Peco Foods, the eighth-largest poultry producer in the U.S., in 2012 had both a $3-million, 50-job project making animal feed in Newark, Ark., and a $10-million, 250-job expansion of its poultry processing operation in Batesville.
Turns out some of the waste from poultry processing is perfect for biodiesel fuel production. Not long ago FutureFuel Corp. acquired the 2,200-acre Eastman Co. complex in Batesville. As we documented a few years ago, FutureFuel's manufacturing facility, has a 30-year history of specialty and custom chemical development and production, first as a member of the Chemicals Division of Eastman Kodak Company from 1976—1993, and then as a member of Eastman Chemical Company from 1994—2006.
Today, in addition to an increasing array of more than 300 chemical products such as bleach activators, herbicides and an anode component for a new lithium-ion battery customer, FutureFuel uses cooking oil waste from the area's poultry processing plants to manufacture biodiesel. Production has grown from 800 million gallons in 2011 to 1 billion gallons in 2012, and is projected to reach 1.28 billion gallons in 2013, thanks in no small part to the recently reinstated federal $1.00-per-gallon biodiesel blenders' tax credit.
In late 2011 FutureFuel purchased the vacant White-Rodgers facility in Batesville for warehousing. Its payroll has grown from 400 in 2009 to 500 earlier this year.
"We are thankful that our legislators in early 2013 demonstrated their support for biodiesel through the retroactive reinstatement of the tax credits which play an important role in the biodiesel industry, our nation's energy supply, and in our national employment," said FutureFuel President Lee Mikles earlier this year.
Starting Points for Pioneers
Independence, Iowa, located in the Cedar Valley region in the northeast part of the state, is doing its part for national employment. Geater Machining & Manufacturing Company is one of several industrial firms that have expanded there in the past few years; Bachman Tool and Die has also invested $4 million in an expansion in town, and other growing companies include Wapsie Valley Creamery, L&M Radiator and Flint Hills Resources.
Serving the precision machining, finishing, sheet metal fabrication, assembly and finishing operations needs of aerospace, electronic and other high-tech clients since 1962, Geater was awarded tax incentives by the Iowa Dept. of Economic Development for a 25,000-sq.-ft., $5.9-million expansion it finished as part of its golden anniversary in late 2012.
Geater has grown from 30 employees in 1965 to 150 today, and is cultivating even more talent through its Exploring Manufacturing Careers Consortium, a partnership with Hawkeye Community College that educates high-school students about the true opportunities in manufacturing.
Independence, Iowa, was founded by some of the first settlers west of the Mississippi River in 1847, and got its name because three commissioners charged with locating and naming the Buchanan County seat happened to do so as the Fourth of July was approaching.
The settler spirit is alive and well in Independence, Mo., too, which not only is Harry Truman's hometown, but also celebrates during the SantaCaliGon Days Festival every Labor Day weekend its role in all the pioneer trails headed West. The Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails all counted Independence as their starting line.
Last October, aerospace, defense and commercial products company ATK announced it had been notified by the U.S. Army that it was selected for both the production of small-caliber ammunition and continued operation and maintenance of the 4,000-acre Lake City Army Ammunition Plant (LCAAP) in Independence. The initial contracts period is seven years, and if all award terms are exercised, the contracts would cover a 10-year period.
"Our vision for Lake City reasserts our commitment to deliver safe, affordable solutions that ensure LCAAP remains the most responsive military industrial asset in the world," said Mark DeYoung, ATK's president and CEO.
ATK Small Caliber Systems has operated the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant since April 2000. The plant is the primary source for 5.56mm, 7.62mm, and .50 caliber ammunition for the U.S. Department of Defense. It also loads, assembles and packs 20mm ammunition at Lake City for the ATK Medium Caliber Systems division. ATK and the U.S. Army in 2012 on a $12-million upgrade of their industrial wastewater treatment plant.
As might be expected in such an industry, employment has varied, from as high as 2,800 to as low as 600. Today it's around 2,000, says Jack Figg, director of commercial development and community affairs for ATK Small Caliber Systems. Figg has decades of experience in the steel industry on his resume, and sits on various area economic development councils, including his role as chairman of the board of the Independence Economic Development Council. He says ATK occupies some 3 million sq. ft. of the 4.4 million sq. ft. of space on the LCAAP property.
|Bad Boy Mowers||Batesville||AR||Independence||MF||EXP||Mowers||7||150|
|Emerson Climate Technologies/ Emerson||Batesville||AR||Independence||MF||NEW||Air Conditioning Components||120||390|
|FutureFuel||Batesville||AR||INDEPENDENCE||MF||NEW||Anode Material for Lithium-ion Batteries||13||0|
|Peco Foods||Newark||AR||Independence||MF||EXP||Animal Food||3||50|
|Peco Foods||Batesville||AR||Independence||MF||EXP||Poultry Processing||10||250|
|Pilgrim's Pride Corporation||Batesville||AR||Independence||MF||EXP||Poultry processing||3||40|
|Bachman Tool and Die Company||Independence||IA||Buchanan||MF||NEW||Machined components and assemblies||4||3|
|Geater Machining & Manufacturing Co/Stealgard, Inc.||Independence||IA||Buchanan||MF||NEW||Machining, sheet metal and aluminum fabrication||12||11|
|Provemex Int Holdings (Tyson Foods)||Independence||IA||Buchanan||MF||New||pet treats||7||150|
|Wapsie Valley Creamery, Inc. (PP)||Independence||IA||Buchanan||MF||NEW||dairy products||1||0|
|VT Hackney, Inc.||Independence||KS||Montgomery||MF||EXP||truck/trailer bodies||3||72|
|Augur Metal Products Inc||Independence||KY||Boone||MF||EXP||Sheet metal fabricating||1||25|
|Balluff Inc.||Independence||KY||Kenton||HQ||NEW||Control Instruments||6||24|
|Lamp Recyclers of Louisiana, Inc (DBA LEI, Inc)||Independence||LA||Tangipahoa||MF||EXP||Hazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal||2||23|
|L and L Manufacturing||Independence||MO||Jackson||MF||EXP||Converting of Paper Products||3||50|
|Midwest Public Risk||Independence||MO||Jackson||OF/HQ||NEW||Risk Management and Employee Benefits||7||0|
|OX Paper, Tube and Core, Inc.||Independence||MO||Jackson||MF||EXP||Paper Tubes||3||20|
|Recovery Management Corporation||Independence||MO||Jackson||DW||EXP||General Merchandise||34||25|
|AirGas LLC||Independence||OH||Cuyahoga||OF||EXP||Industrial gases||3||64|
|Vox Mobile LLC||Independence||OH||Cuyahoga||HQ||EXP||Telecommunications||0||200|
|Independence Homes LLC||Independence||VA||Grayson||MF||NEW||Modular Cabins||1||42|
|Nautilus, Inc.||Independence||VA||Grayson||MF||EXP||Exercise Equipment||2||60|
Through the government's ARMS (Armament Retooling and Manufacturing Support) commercial leasing model, ATK reinvests cash generated through tenant rentals into the plant for infrastructure refurbishment, energy conservation and environmental stewardship. Figg's job is to not only manage ATK property, but to get other tenants onto other sections of the property to offset the cost of maintaining the installation. Among those tenants is small business Mast Technologies, which also serves the U.S. Army with small-caliber practice rounds for military exercises and is the site's next largest tenant … with 30,000 sq. ft.
"He does 12 million rounds a year," says Figg. "We do 1.9 billion."
Seventy percent of the ammunition ATK produces there is for training. Figg says government orders are down right now. The firm is hoping to narrow the gap between the ammunition business's peaks and valleys by going after more commercial ammunition production for hunters and shooters. Hence the company's recent acquisition of Federal Cartridge, whose facility in Anoka, Minn., was recently expanded.
Figg and his colleagues fully appreciate the area's work force, 80 percent of whom work in manufacturing. Even so, however, there's a need to upgrade skills. So ATK is partnering with the State of Missouri's customized training program and Metropolitan Community College to keep employees' multi-craft skills on a par with increasingly sophisticated machinery.
Figg notes that the area's history is replete with craft-oriented industry: Armco Steel, Union Wire Rope, Allis-Chalmers. The city's history, he says, is a natural fit for journeyman skilled crafts, and is supported by a strong school system. It also fits well with the larger Kansas City metro area's engineering cluster.
Figg also notes that the region appeals to talented professionals with families, recalling his decades in the steel business:
"When I'd move some guy from the East Coast or West Coast to this location, if he had kids, it was hard to extract him before they were done going through school," he says. "The quality of life is a very good thing."
According to Independence EDC chief Tom Lesnak, the city worked with local companies to add over 400 new jobs and invest nearly $30 million in 2012. In addition to retaining the jobs at ATK, the agency is also working to get the word out about the space available at LCAAP, some 13 million in underground industrial space, and the forthcoming Independence Business Park.
Figg says all the areas in Greater Kansas City are seeing inquiries from the manufacturing and industrial sector that they didn't see five years ago.
"Manufacturing," he says, "is alive and well in the United States."