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$40M investment
Eastman to expand, hire 25
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The Virginia Tobacco Commission gave a $230,000 grant to Henry County. Shown are (from left) Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors; Del. Danny Marshall; Brian Miller, site manager for Eastman Chemical Co.; and Del. Don Merricks. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Eastman Chemical Co. will invest $40 million and hire 25 employees over the next three years to expand its infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities in Henry County and Martinsville.

“That is just the beginning,” said Eastman President Mark Costa, who will become CEO on Jan. 1.

Costa and other company officials joined Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and local and state representatives at the Henry County Administration Building on Wednesday for the announcement that attracted more than 100 people.

Eastman serves customers in approximately 100 countries and employs about 14,000 people worldwide, according to Brian Miller, site manager in Martinsville, and other officials.

It could have selected any location for its expansion, especially considering that “the vast majority of our growth is centered in China” and other Asian markets, Costa said.

But the scale, efficiency and capability of the local workforce became driving factors in the company’s decision to expand its Martinsville operation, he said. “This has been an important and significant step for us,” Costa said.

About a year and a half ago, Eastman acquired Solutia, a window and coating facility in Fieldale, Bolling said. Eastman stabilized the window film operation, preserved 500 jobs, and it “is now ready to take it to the next level,” he said.

Miller said the 25 new employees primarily will be machine operators and earn estimated annual salaries of $35,600 each. The company also offers its employees benefits, he added.

New employees will be hired through the company’s partnership with Patrick Henry Community College via a national career assessment test. The company is working with PHCC to implement the new testing program.

Miller said the 500 full-time employees currently at the local facility produce Performance Films — a solar window film for autos, homes and other applications.

“We have a very committed workforce. They take a lot of pride” in doing their jobs, he said. He added that the company’s theme “— Unleashing the Potential —” is relevant and a priority each day.

Eastman’s investment locally will be used to expand infrastructure, provide better information and technology (IT) capacity, a continued focus on safety, protecting the environment and expanding its manufacturing operation, Miller said.

He said he anticipates that work on the expansion will start in the next 12 to 18 months.

“We have high hopes for the window films business in general, and we are looking” forward to future growth in that sector, Miller said.

Globally, Eastman is a specialty chemical company that produces a broad range of products found in items people use every day, including plastics, said Travis Smith, vice president of the Performance Films Division.

Smith and CeeGee McCord, state government affairs manager, were in Henry County early Wednesday to meet with the Henry County Board of Supervisors and attend the announcement.

Eastman “is in a leadership position” and needs to grow, Smith said. “We see the investment is needed.”

The Martinsville site “is the flagship site for us, and we feel it is important to start here,” he said.

Bolling said Eastman’s announcement symbolizes the success of economic development efforts in southern and rural Virginia.

It is important, he said, because the expansion shows Eastman’s confidence in the local community, because “we want Virginia to be a state that makes things” and welcomes manufacturing, and because it is the result of partnerships between local and state agencies and officials as well as workforce training opportunities.

Businesses like Virginia’s low taxes, that it is a right-to-work state and has a port, Bolling said. But the “most important thing is that they can find workers,” which is why the partnership with Patrick Henry Community College and the New College Institute are so important, he added.

Costa agreed.

“At the end of the day, success is when great people do great things,” he said. And in tough times, if you do not reinvest and retrain, “you don’t have much success. ... Patrick Henry and NCI are what we need to see in this country.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. to secure the project for Virginia. Gov. Bob McDonnell approved a $75,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund (GOF) and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission approved $230,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity Funds to help.

Eastman also is eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program, administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance will provide funding and services to support the company’s recruitment and training activities through its Virginia Jobs Investment Program.

During its meeting before the announcement Wednesday, the Henry County Board of Supervisors approved performance agreements for the GOF and Tobacco Commission funds.

Dels. Danny Marshall, who serves on the Tobacco Commission, and Don Merricks presented the check to company and county officials.

The new capital investment the company plans to make and the jobs it will create are important. But the more important is that the jobs will enable residents to provide for their families and have a better life, Marshall said. “This is the American Dream.”

 

 
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