Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 20, 2018

Expansion becoming Mt. Pleasant’s ‘buzzword’

Four area manufacturers adding to employment roster
Jul 27, 2017
Photo by: Brooks Taylor Hearth & Home Technologies, located on Mt. Pleasant’s west side, will be expanding its local plant. At left, Continental ContiTech, located in the former Goodyear plant on Goodyear Road in Mt. Pleasant, announced expansion plans last fall.

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


“The Mt. Pleasant Area Development Commission is pleased to announce the expansion of Hearth & Home Technologies in Mt. Pleasant ...”

“Continental ContiTech, a global leader in rubber house manufacturing, recently announced plans for expansion in Mt. Pleasant ...”

“The Mt. Pleasant City Council approved a high-quality jobs application for Lomont Molding LLC. The $2.6 million expansion is scheduled to begin immediately ...”

“ (Mt. Pleasant) Mayor Steve Brimhall spoke on behalf of the City of Mt. Pleasant to congratulate Innovairre in Mt. Pleasant. Innovairre has created 100 new full-time jobs and is now looking for individuals to apply ...”

These are some of the headlines you will find if you turn to the Mt. Pleasant Area Development Commission’s Web page. Needless to say, Mt. Pleasant is being blessed.

Kristi Ray, Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance executive vice president, kiddingly would like to take credit for it, but she knows the wheels were turning long before she arrived on the scene less than a year ago.

Ray recalled she was on the job for one day when Hearth & Home Technologies announced it would be expanded and that started the ball rolling. “I did come at the right time. It has been a good 10 months for me.”

She sees the numerous expansions as “kind of a coincidence that they are all happening at the same time. Things are good, however, in Mt. Pleasant right now. The city is constantly improving its infrastructure.”

David File, who served as president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Economic Development Commission from 2010 until earlier this year and still is a commission member, said the expansions reflect a change in emphasis for the commission.

“The past three years we have been focusing on existing business expansion and retaining businesses,” File noted. “It costs a lot more to attract a business than retain one. In the 1980s and 1990s, we were going for the home runs. Now, we are satisfied looking at companies that employ 20-50 people. The days of getting a manufacturer with 200 jobs are few and far between.”

Brimhall looks at the economy as an influencing factor. “The economy has changed, finally. The stock market is performing well and people who have money are willing to spend it.

“After 2008 (economic recession), people were sitting on their money,” Brimhall added. “People believe interest rates are going to stay low and feel that state and federal regulations and tax rates will increase. People are feeling good about the economy and buying products, so new products are needed. When consumers are buying, the economy moves.”

Mt. Pleasant City Administrator Brent Schleisman echoed File’s remarks about the development commission’s new direction. “We are taking more of a holistic approach now. Before, when large employers (Bluebird, Motorola, etc.) left, we were trying to hit a home run to bring back all the workers. Now, we are concentrating more on expansion and retention of existing industries. We are also promoting more commercial development.”

Ray, elaborating on the expansions of the four local industries said each had similarities and differences. The key similarity in all was that they didn’t happen overnight. “Hearth & Home has been working for three or four years on expansion. When a plant expands, you look at the existing plan and where you can expand. Sometimes, a company can decide in a week, other times it takes years. No two projects are the same.”

ContiTech also took a long time, Ray said. “We didn’t know who we were working for or against. That was a lot of fun. We were working with a site selection team from North Carolina and an attorney from Des Moines. It was pretty intense because we were competing against other plants.”

Lomont’s expansion, Ray said, was special because it is a local company, but just as important as a new company.

Finally, Innovairre’s plan to add 100 new workers “was very exciting,” she said.

The Chamber Alliance executive vice president said she was not totally surprised by the number of industrial expansions in Mt. Pleasant. “I have to put a little (of credit) on the national (presidential) election. Business gets a little hesitant (about expanding) before a national election because they don’t know what to expect. I was at a conference in December and told that there would be a lot more manufacturing activity in the months ahead and manufacturers would be expanding.”

Brimhall said he saw the expansion coming. “The economy has changed in the last two years. You saw it (expansion) coming.” Schleisman agreed. “We have noticed a lot more inquiries the past two years. There has been a lot of activity.”

File sees the current wave of expansion as Mt. Pleasant’s second wave of expansion, noting the first was in the 1960s and 1970s that occurred as a response to the farm crisis. That wave brought Motorola, Ceco (now NCI) and Bluebird as the big hitters.

“We were emerging from the farm crisis at the time and thought we should broaden our focus and look at manufacturing,” he reflected. “We were wondering how we maintain our momentum and whether we could maintain our momentum.” The question was partially answered when Wal-Mart announced plans to build a distribution center in Mt. Pleasant.

The creation of the Avenue of the Saints (U.S. Highway 218/27) and the widening of U.S. Highway 34 to four lanes certainly were “helpers” as well. The highway construction put Mt. Pleasant as a junction point of two major four-way highways.

While mulling how to maintain momentum, economic development leaders noticed “spec” buildings were successful in regional communities, so the development commission built a spec building which was quickly purchased by West Liberty Foods.

A second spec building was built after the first sold, and Inhance purchased it three years later.

“We went from trying to attract large manufacturers to building buildings and attracting medium manufacturers,” File stated.

With two buildings gong rather quickly, the development commission was on a roll and a third spec building was built in 2007. “Then, the economy tanked on us,” File said.

A good Midwestern work ethic, Ray says, is one of the reasons for Mt. Pleasant’s economic development success. But there is much more. “We are easy to work with, we have a very good city council and county government that makes things easy. We make it easy to do business here.”

While industrial development leads the way, commercial development is a close follower, she said. Several years ago, there were nearly 15 vacant buildings in the downtown sector. Today, there are two.

At times, commercial development can be a struggle, she continued. “Commercial is a lot tougher because there are a lot of franchises that won’t look at you if you can’t meet their population minimum. We don’t spend a lot of time on commercial because they have so many standards.”

File believes there are three keys to attracting business. First of all is location, secondly are low labor costs and thirdly and most important, is cooperation between many players — the Chamber, development commission, city and county governments and education institutions.

“The synergy is what attracted me and continues to attract me,” File said. “We all see the same goals. We have community leaders that have been able to look ahead. Whether it be land acquisition to build business parks or other things to attract business, we have done things in a unified, strategic way. That is the key”

Because of Mt. Pleasant’s location and transportation system, it is able to attract a lot of commuters which is a huge plus. Schleisman said about 60 percent of Mt. Pleasant’s workforce commutes, adding that on Monday-Friday, Mt. Pleasant’s listed population of 8,668 swells to about 13,000.

All in all, economic leaders are naturally pleased with the recent industrial expansion in Mt. Pleasant. “Success breeds success,” Ray remarked. “When business expands, other businesses notice it and begin thinking that maybe they should expand, too.”

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