BEECH BOTTOM - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin joined county and community leaders Friday in celebrating the rebirth of the old corrugating plant, now home to Jupiter Aluminum.
Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said it's a "prime example of how public-private partnerships can strengthen an entire community" and said it builds on West Virginia's strengths.
"We have a very educated work force, we're known for that," Manchin said during a walking tour of Jupiter's 111,000 square feet plant space. "We've always done the heavy lifting, the tough jobs, manufacturing jobs, fabrication jobs, and we're still doing all that ... we've just got to make sure peple around the country understand what we can do here, what we have done here already and what we're still capable of doing."
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, left, and Jupiter Aluminum General Manager Ron Nuckles talk about the plant and its future Friday during a tour of the operation, located in the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom. -- Linda Harris
Hackman Capital specializes in buying industrial properties as well as buying and selling industrial equipment. It picked up the 650-acre corrugating property out of bankruptcy for $4.4 million, then promptly resold it to the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle for $200,000. Hackman retained the rights to the building and equipment, but the BDC holds title to the land and with it, any environmental issues that might exist.
Pat Ford, executive director of the BDC, said the partnership, born a year ago, has already resulted in more than $12 million in site improvements.
"The turnkey nature of the facility, with the recent investment in the site and infrastructure, gives the Northern Panhandle both building and site inventory with considerable room to accomodate future economic development opportunities," Ford said.
He said Jupiter originally intended to relocate the line, but realized early on it made more economic sense to take advantage of the existing work force and keep it in Beech Bottom.
The company, headquartered in Illinois, also purchased and installed a slitter line as well as a packaging line, giving them the capability of cutting coils to different widths.
"We really appreciate the attention," said Ron Nuckles, Jupiter general manager. "We believe in the area, we've got a great work force in, so far, ex-employees who worked here before. We've invested in new equipment and refurbishing old equipment. We expect to be here a long time. We really appreciate the community backing us and hope to (be here) for a long time."
Nuckles said they're in limited operation now, with about nine people on their payroll. He hopes to see that number grow to about 45 in the spring.
"We've got to build a customer base, obviously. We'll be sending out samples to customers we already have for additional product lines we can supply to them with this line," he said. "We won't hit our peak for a couple of years, but I think we can be at 24 hours a day, five days a week in the spring."
"Ultimately, we'd like to have about 55 or 60 employees," he said. "That would be good news for everybody - it would be good for Jupiter, good for the economy here and for the ex-employees here - it will get them back to work in a job they know and do well."
Nuckles said the company had been looking for an opportunity to grow its business for some time, "and this fit our needs. We could get into a new product line with experienced workers. This line is taking a little more attention than we anticipated to get it running again, but we've got a commitment from the owner and financial backing, and we're excited about the operation."
Hackman Vice President Dave Smith said his company "couldn't be happier" about what's transpired at the property since it was purchased a year ago.
"It's exactly what we want to see happen," he said. "We want to see tenants (like Jupiter) come in and make a commitment to the area."
Smith said his company's partnership with the BDC and the Beech Bottom community "is a win-win-win scenario."
"Going into a venture like this, worst-case scenario ... is that you look at possibly taking a building down,"he said. "But if you find an organization like Jupiter that sees value in a place like we saw value in it, it just gets better and better and better. It's better for the community and for everybody involved."
He said they're focused now on geting the rest of the property cleaned up "so it shows well" to prospects, "and people can see vision there."
"We always seem to have good prospects that we're dealing with," he added. "While we don't have anything to talk about, we're working hard."
BDC Chairman Bill D'Alesio said Jupiter's decision to repurpose the old Wheeling Corrugating paint line "effectively leverages an ideal combination of former mill workers, traditional workers in the aluminum and steel coating industry, and the proven Jupiter Aluminum production system."
Others participating in the tour included Beech Bottom Mayor George Lewis, Brooke County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi, Hancock County Commissioners Jeff Davis and Dan Greathouse, former state Sen. Ed Bowman, who represents Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in the Northern Panhandle, and BDC Assistant Director Marvin Six and members Bill Kiefer and Mike Wehr.