Company counting on Clinton workforce

By Tammy Keith Originally Published February 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 27, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper talks about the areas of the plant that will be occupied by a food-product company, Global Food Group.

Pete Giovannini, executive director of the Van Buren County Economic Development Commission, said he “still hasn’t come down off cloud 9” after Clinton landed a food-production company.

Global Food Group, a Cabot-based company, bought the former Volex plant in Clinton for $778,000 with plans to invest about $4 million more in the facility, he said.

The business, which has a goal of starting production in August, will create at least 224 jobs over five years, Giovannini said.

It’s the culmination of about 18 months of negotiations, he said.

Giovannini said he and Van Buren County Judge Roger Hooper kept the road hot making trips from Clinton to Cabot.

“I’ve known since the middle of December that this was going to happen, because that’s when we finalized the terms of the deal,” Giovannini said.

They worked with Robbie Brown of Cabot, president and chief executive officer of Global Food Group, a subsidiary of Global Performance Co.

“Global has been nothing short of fantastic to work with,” Giovannini said. “I’m very, very excited about this company coming in.”

The company first contacted Clinton Mayor Roger Rorie about the closed Pilgrim’s Pride chicken-processing plant, but when that didn’t work out, Hooper said the conversation turned to Volex.

“We showed it to Global, and they loved it,” Hooper said.

Giovannini said renovation of the facility could begin within 60 days.

Brown said Friday that he hasn’t decided which lines the company will make in Clinton.

“We do a lot of different, diverse products — we’re going to grow at a responsible rate,” Brown said.

He said the number of employees hired initially depends on what food lines are manufactured.

Global Food Group’s products include frozen pizzas, quesadillas, burritos and private-label sandwiches for grocery and convenience stores, and a Pick 5 line that has prepackaged products, which retailers sell at a discount.

“We have 40 different products that we have in that program. One of the things we’re wanting to do is manufacture some of those goods that make sense instead of purchasing those,” Brown said.

Brown said that separate from manufacturing food, the Clinton site will provide cold storage in which it will store products for other companies.

“We hope to generate business from people like Tyson and Pilgrim and other food processors,” Brown said.

“We also will be a customer of our own cold storage as well,” he said.

Brown said the workforce was a key factor in locating to Clinton.

“I think Clinton has a good workforce, and it’s a good demographic,” he said.

“There’s been a food-processing plant in Clinton since the 1950s,” Giovannini said, except for the past few years.

“I think it had the right leadership,” Brown said. “The people I dealt with — Pete, the county judge, the mayor — came to our corporate office numerous times.

“It was obvious they were great leaders for the community they were in, and they wanted jobs.”

Giovannini said the state sweetened the deal.

“I went and asked the state for $2.5 million, and they said, ‘Sure,’” he said.

The money is being provided as a Community Development Block Grant. Brown said he thinks that aspect of the deal has been overlooked.

“I think the main thing people aren’t focused on — the first thing I had to say to everyone here was how much I commend Gov. Beebe’s commitment to job creation throughout our state,” Brown said. “I contribute a lot of this to him.”

The building, vacated by power-cord-maker Volex in 2006, isn’t empty, though.

Ozark Health Medical Center has its home-health and development offices in about 20,000 square feet of the 140,000-square-foot building, Giovannini said.

The medical center foundation owned the building from 2008-2012, then sold it to the county.

Hooper said Global will rent the space to the hospital until a free-standing medical office building is constructed on the main campus.

Darrell Moore, chief financial officer for Ozark Health, said a $15 million bond issue approved in 2010 will be used for construction.

He said 30 to 35 employees are housed in the former Volex building now, and the storage space is “a big plus.”

“We did look at just doing some renovation and work inside that building, but we met with the Global Food Group people, and they felt like they would eventually need all that space,” Moore said.

“We’ve kind of known this has been a strong possibility for the past year,” he said of the sale.

“Everything on the first floor and warehouse floor will probably need to be cleaned out within 60 days,” he said.

However, Moore said, the hospital has a “verbal agreement” to stay in the office portion of the facility.

“Global’s been really easy to work with,” he said. “If we can do something to help bring the jobs in, we were certainly willing to do that.”

Brown said the office space in the building is “much greater than our needs are.”

In addition to the headquarters in Cabot, the company has administrative offices in Cordova, Tenn.

“We’re humbled to be coming into the facility; we think it’s a great facility to retrofit to our needs,” Brown said.

Clinton needed some love.

Rorie said Van Buren County was declared a disaster area seven times in about a 2 1/2-year period.

“It’s just been one thing after another,” he said.

A tornado in 2008 blew away a boat manufacturer, adding to the loss of jobs from the chicken-processing plant closing.

County Judge Hooper, who previously worked at the chicken plant, said the industry announcement is significant.

“I guess for us, it’s very exciting because basically, after the chicken plant, boat factory and Volex shut down, we had no manufacturing,” Hooper said.

“Mr. Brown and his partner … have stayed with us and been very patient. I think the best part about it, it’s an Arkansas company, … and they’re going to have a plant here in Arkansas and ship product from here,” Hooper said.

Rorie said Global Food Group’s announcement is the “best news I’ve had since I’ve been mayor, in six years.”

“It’s been tough — it’s been a long process — but no one ever quits,” Rorie said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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