Sanford's new ink plant might have been here

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lewisburg was a prospective location for the ink factory Sanford Corp. plans to build in Manchester, according to City Hall leaders here.

"We were told to look for 50-60 acres for them to build their new ink factory," says Terry Wallace, the industrial development director for Lewisburg.

Sanford Corp., the maker of Sharpie markers in Shelbyville and three kinds of pencils here, announced last week that it's closing its Lewisburg plant as part of a world-wide reorganization, but the closure here isn't complicated.

"They had one big retailer that was 40 percent of their business and it was dropped," Mayor Bob Phillips said Thursday night during announcements to the City Council.

Sanford has a pencil factory in South America, a company spokesman said.

Phillips said, "This is another industry with jobs that are going overseas. The pencil making will be done in Bogotá, Columbia."

The mayor said he was relying on statements by Sanford Human Relations Vice President Gary Hall, one of two people named by Sanford's spokesman as company officials who met with Phillips, Wallace, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, Chamber President Chad Fox and Chamber Executive Ritaan Weaver.

"We came in second for the ink plant for Sanford," Phillips said. "We wanted to put it in our business park."

Wallace said, "They had looked at several sites and we showed them the back end of our business park" located on the north side of Mooresville Highway. An engineer from Nashville examined the property.

"I thought that everything was going well," Wallace said.

"Our package to them amounted to $4.67 million for land and a 10-15-year PILOT program" that permits reduced payments instead of property taxes, he said.

"We were told pretty quick that they expected us to give them the land," Wallace said. "They got 60 acres at Manchester for $1."

The Coffee County city had bought 1,000 acres from Arnold Engineering Development Center, the federal aircraft test facility between Interstate 24 and Tullahoma.

The property is "low bottom land," Wallace continued. "I understood that it was pretty rough."

As for the land Lewisburg suggested to Sanford: "We couldn't give it away," Wallace said.

Part of the city's pitch to Sanford leaders was the quality of life in Marshall County, Wallace continued, location was an issue for another reason.

"Most of the people who work in Shelbyville live in Murfreesboro," Wallace said in a reference to workers and managers. "It's a whole lot closer to drive from Murfreesboro to Manchester than to Lewisburg."

Sanford may start with 100 jobs at the ink plant in Manchester, but that is to grow to 200 within three years, Wallace said.

"Gary Hall did most of the talking" during the 30-minute meeting at the Chamber office last Tuesday morning, Nov. 11, Wallace said. Colored art pencils may be produced in South America.

Sanford may discontinue production of regular black lead pencils.

Phillips' comments before regular business started at the Council meeting on Thursday night included a few observations about some reaction to Sanford's announcement.

Comments heard at the store, he said, included the question "'Who dropped the ball?' The city did not let anyone down."

Lewisburg had a different industrial developer when the International Comfort Products factory ceased production, the mayor said. It was unfair to blame him for the ICP decision and it's unfair to blame Wallace for Sanford's decision.

In both cases, there's been a focus on the products' production being shifted to foreign plants, Phillips said.

"It's probably not the last manufacturer going off-shore," he said, recalling what a woman said about a little company in Illinois.

"Jobs came here because of a cheaper workforce," Phillips said.

Now, they're going where wages are lower, he said.