Imperial breaks ground in Commerce Park

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Tribune photo by Karen Hall Pictured at the groundbreaking, from left, are Jim Bingham, Anna Childress, Catherine Brooks, Ronald Robinson, Pam and Sheldon Davis, Michelle Campbell, Chuck Driesbach, Steve Thomas, Justin Wolf, John Schwan, Joe Ross, Joe Boyd Liggett, Wayne A. Wolf, Kenneth Carr, Wayne J. Wolf, Tim Turner, Sen. Jim Tracy, Leroy Mullis, John Chunn, Robert Harrison, Eddie Wiles, Barbara Woods, Dave Kennedy, Leland Carden, Jim Brown, Jerry Merriman, Robin Minor, Tommy Burns, Richard Holt, Hershel Davis, Odie Whitehead Jr., Sam Kirby, Greg Lowe, and Arnold Lilly. Behind Lowe is Don Vtipil.

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Ground was broken with golden shovels Monday in the I-65 Commerce Park to mark the start of contruction of Lewisburg's newest industrial building.

More than 50 people gathered at noon on the windswept hillside that will be transformed into a factory for Imperial Food Service and Red Cloud Food Service.

"We are blessed, especially for today's celebration, and what it means to this county," said County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett. "We look for a long-lasting relationship." The mayor noted this is the first time county and city have worked together to get a grant, in this case an infrastructure grant requiring matching funds, of which the two bodies each paid an equal share.

"Sen. Jim Tracy has been helpful a number of times," Liggett said. "We appreciate everything he's done on the state level."

"I couldn't be more grateful," said Lewisburg's Director of Economic Development Greg Lowe. "It means a lot to me personally, and it's a really big deal for us in this community. From the first day, I knew they were good guys." Lowe thanked a long list of people, most of whom were at the ceremony, for their work in making the project happen. He praised the way the city council and county commission reached out to each other to get the grant, and called it very forward thinking. Lowe also mentioned the Industrial Development Board, the Planning and Zoning Board, and the leaders of the utilities.

"It was truly a team effort," Lowe. "You're going to help make us successful" he said to Imperial Food Service leaders.

"I can't believe how many people are here," said Wayne A. Wolf, CEO and co-owner. He explained the beef brisket being served for lunch was an Imperial product that would be made at the Lewisburg factory. Wolf introduced founder, chairman, and co-owner Robert Harrison, who is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

"We fit right in here because we grew up in small towns," Wolf said. "We're just happy to be here."

Imperial Food Service was founded by Harrison in 1998 and evolved from a local packaging broker, to a regional food distributor and now, a national and international manufacturer and marketer of food products, including meals and drinks specially prepared for the military.

The company will build a 65,000 square foot factory, preparing five to six million pounds of smoked meats per year, as well as a special energy drink for the armed forces. The manufacturing facility is being relocated from a site 45 miles west of Chicago in South Elgin, Ill., but only about 15 members of the core management team will move to Tennessee, leaving nearly 50 jobs to be filled locally.

At an IDB meeting this spring, Justin Wolf explained what IFS and RCS do. The majority of their business is related to the Department of Defense and a defense logistics agency, he said. Most of their product is exported, especially to the Middle East where the greatest number of armed forces is stationed.

Wolf said they also do a lot of disaster relief business, assembling "box meals" for the federal government to distribute to victims.

"Since Katrina, we have been second or third in the country in supplying box meals to the federal government," Wolf said.

IFS and RCFS also make private-label products for grocery chains, such as frozen sandwiches.

The companies wanted to move out of Illinois, Justin Wolf said, because the state is a "business disaster" with "taxes out of control."

"Tennessee is a great solution for us," Justin Wolf said that day, explaining that they looked everywhere in the mid-state, even downtown Nashville. "After meeting Greg (Lowe) and a number of people, we decided this is where we want to be."

The building should be finished in the spring, and fully operational by the summer.