Architectural glass fabricator Viracon had Gov. Nathan Deal as lead speaker for an announcement Tuesday that the company is adding 125 jobs at its Statesboro factory.
Deal and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr joined county, city and Development Authority of Bulloch County officials in Georgia Southern University's Nessmith-Lane Center for the 8:45 a.m. announcement. The state officials were also there for a 9 a.m. meeting of the Governor's High Demand Career Initiative.
"I believe that this announcement today is indicative of more than just the jobs that it represents," Deal said.
He called Viracon's new hiring and planned investment of $2 million in its plant "a testament to the fact that this is a good place in which to do business" and said it reflects a larger trend.
"We are seeing a resurgence in the production of products that are related to construction," Deal said. "As you know, one of the real hard hits that our state took when the recession occurred was that it hit construction very, very hard."
In northwestern Georgia, he said, the carpet and flooring industry has seen a recent rebound, adding 3,000 to 4,000 jobs. He cited Viracon's investment as further evidence of the return of demand for building materials.
Built in 1998, Viracon's Statesboro factory once employed 600 people, assembling and treating glass panels with various coatings and properties. Its products become windows and architectural elements, sometimes in very large buildings.
Demand plummeted beginning in 2008, the year the recession became apparent worldwide. The factory's workforce was trimmed to about 300 by 2012, when the company idled the pant for six months while investing $6.1 million on new equipment and renovations aimed at improved efficiency.
"The Viracon leadership had seen that moment in time as an opportunity to prepare for the future," Viracon Plant Manager Rick Farmer said. "Our markets had turned down significantly, and Viracon's Statesboro facility had idle capacity."
The investment, he added, prepared the company for the upturn that was sure to come and showed its commitment to the community.
Now, with architectural glass orders on the upsurge, Viracon has about 350 employees and is already in the middle of the announced hiring. All the new employees should be on board by the end of August, and the plant will then have a workforce of 425 to 450 people, Farmer said in an interview.
Jobs still available include machine operator, load and unload, maintenance and some supervisory positions, he said.
The $2 million upgrade will include automation in the glass-cutting process, an area of the plant where much of the work is still done manually. The total cost includes some possible construction.
"Potentially, we would expand the back of the building to make room for that equipment," Farmer said.
But the hiring was not driven exclusively by the expansion.
"The business is back and is strong, so we needed to hire more people regardless," Farmer said.
Glass panels made in Statesboro go mainly to buyers in the southeastern United States. But the plant also exports glass through the Port of Savannah to Japan, China, Australia and India.
Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Garrett Nevil, Development Authority Chairman Bruce Yawn and Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore spoke congratulating and thanking Viracon.
"We are justly proud of our county's long history of support for industry," Nevil said. "Our Wal-Mart distribution center, Briggs & Stratton, Great Dane Trailers, GAF Roofing and Viracon are among the facilities that have recognized the benefits of locating here."
Viracon's upgrade will benefit from some state assistance, as well as help from the Development Authority of Bulloch County.
"The state is going to use some discretionary funds through a OneGeorgia grant to help support the expansion, and we'll actually be the applicant for those funds, so they'll work through us to get the funds down to Bulloch County and to Viracon," Development Authority CEO Benjy Thompson said.
The event that followed Tuesday's announcement was the third of 13 planned meetings around the state on the High Demand Career Initiative. Deal left after speaking briefly to the group. In addition to Carr, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Ron Jackson came to Statesboro to meet with managers and executives from industries.
Industries represented on the panel included the Briggs & Stratton and Great Dane plants in Bulloch County, Crider Inc. from Emanuel County, Gulfstream and Mitsubishi Power Systems America from Chatham County, Firth Rixson from Liberty County and Rayonier Performance Fibers from Wayne County. The companies advised the state agencies on their workforce education needs.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.