By Ginny Wray
A Polish company’s decision to build a glass processing operation in Henry County began when a local businessman saw a company’s need and suggested a local solution.
Bobby Lankford sparked the effort that culminated in July with the announcement that Press Glass would spend $43.55 million to build a 280,000-square-foot manufacturing operation and create 212 jobs in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. Press Glass will be the first industry to locate in Commonwealth Crossing, which has been in the making for more than a decade.
“I knew it would be a good marriage for Press Glass and Martinsville and Henry County,” Lankford said in a recent interview. That marriage will be good both now and in the future, he added.
Lankford is among the founders of Glass Dynamics in 1985 in Eden and then Stoneville, N.C., and Stone Dynamics in 2000 in Henry County. He said he wanted to open Glass Dynamics in Henry County but “it didn’t seem the development people were that interested,” while North Carolina officials actively courted the company that now employs 200 people, he said.
That situation changed. Lankford later launched Stone Dynamics in the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park in Henry County and when it needed to expand, Lankford said Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) officials “helped with grants and made it possible for us to be successful a lot sooner,” Lankford said, adding that the EDC staff now is friendly, helpful and welcoming.
Stone Dynamics moved into the former Coca Cola plant on Memorial Boulevard, and its approximately 28-person staff grew to 80 employees in three years, Lankford added.
A year ago, Press Glass of Poczesna, Poland, bought Glass Dynamics and began planning a new plant to make jumbo insulated glass units for large buildings in New York, Atlanta and other areas, he said. The new plant was being designed for land Glass Dynamics owned in Stoneville, but that site had no room for future expansion, Lankford said.
So he suggested to his son, Michael, a vice president of Press Glass North America, that the company look at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre in Henry County. The new plant did not need to be near Glass Dynamics’ operation in Stoneville, and Commonwealth Crossing offered a world-class industrial park that is close to major highways, Bobby Lankford said.
“We all come from Henry County so it’s nice for them to land there. They’ll be set for the next 25-30 years,” he added.
Last December, Bobby Lankford called Mark Heath, president/CEO of the EDC, and asked to meet with him. At their first conversation in January in Stoneville, Heath said he found that Press Glass already had an engineering firm, Dewberry, and was working with New Atlantic Construction to design a factory for the Stoneville property.
“It wasn’t hard to take the engineering work to Henry County and (County Engineer) Tim Pace. Commonwealth Crossing made more sense” because of the expansion capabilities, Heath said. “It was no small thing that Henry County already had a graded site, pad ready.”
As a result, Press Glass could spend its money on equipment and other aspects of the new operation rather than site development, he said.
“It was a good business decision, saving money they could allocate to other things” and speeding up the project, he added.
Henry County Administrator Tim Hall, who also is a member of the EDC board, said at his first face-to-face meeting with Press Glass President Maciej Migalski, “(Maciej) said, ‘We want to come to Henry County.’ It’s unusual to hear it that directly,” Hall said. “The company had studied us” and essentially said, “‘We want to come here. How can we make that happen?’”
Heath said there were many details to work out and local officials knew the North Carolina site was always in play. But, Hall said, “we had a common goal. Once we knew the common goal, it accelerated the whole thing.”
Heath, Hall and Pace traveled to Poland in May. They spent a week visiting the plant, learning about its operations and building credibility with Press Glass, Heath and Hall said.
Among other things, they saw how Press Glass transports its large pieces of glass by special trucks, Heath said. Now, officials here will determine if road improvements will be needed at Commonwealth Crossing to accommodate those vehicles, he said.
The company will not use the rail line that is a key feature of the business park, Heath said. For that reason, its operation will be constructed on the southern end of Lot 1, leaving rail access available for a future park tenant. Press Glass’ facility will be adjacent to the Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAT), which is already under construction.
CCAT is expected to be completed by next June, Heath said. The 25,500-square-foot building will feature advanced manufacturing training facilities as well as office space which Press Glass can use for pre-employment services and other work while its operation is being built. CCAT is to be used only by Commonwealth Crossing tenants.
A total of 175 of the 720 acres at Commonwealth Crossing are graded. Press Glass and CCAT will use a total of 42 of those acres, leaving 133 available for other companies, according to Heath.
The company’s architects and engineers now are working with Pace on the building plans and with Hall on the needed agreements, Heath said. The company hopes to be operating in the new site by the end of 2019.
Hiring has not begun, he said. When it does, the company first will hire key personnel who will go to Poland for extended training to learn Press Glass’ processes, Heath added.
Press Glass fits the EDC’s targeted recruiting area of advanced manufacturing, Heath said, though he added that he and his staff “will talk to anybody … quality companies with quality jobs.”
In addition to advanced manufacturing skills, Hall said employees will need so-called “soft skills” such as being receptive to training, promptness, being drug-free and working as a team.
“They call them soft (skills) but they are not soft,” he said. “They are essential.”
Press Glass is not releasing its pay scales, but Hall said, “it is safe to say it will be above average for the area.”
Heath said he has advised the company that it will have two labor pools from which to draw: the 11,000 people who commute to jobs outside Henry County each day and those working now who want new opportunities.
Since Press Glass announced its Henry County plans in July, the EDC has been in contact with the company almost daily, Heath said.
“We don’t make the announcement and walk away,” he said. “We want them to do what Bobby Lankford did — be successful here and bring others” to the area as well.
Lankford said other business people also can help recruit companies to the area.
“Everybody’s job is to do that, whether you’re in business for yourself or not. Things change. You need to freshen yourself and diversify,” he said. The area “can always use new businesses. That’s what brings people in. That’s what will happen here when they (Press Glass) locate in Commonwealth Crossing. They will have opportunities to offer people and they’ll come here.”