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Features UK company buys Whitley plant

Tricorn Group PLC, who purchased the Whitley plant, has agreed to create 121 jobs this year and invest $4 million in its operation over the next three years.Whitley Products Inc. looked as though it could be closing its doors for good just a week ago. Quick action and dedicated local officials were able to stop that from happening and now Tricorn Group PLC, a holding company for a group of companies that develop and manufacture pipe solutions for international sale, has officially acquired the Franklin facility, business and certain assets of the plant. The company, which is based in the United Kingdom, will open Franklin Tubular Products Inc., a manufacturer of manipulated tubular assemblies in Macon County according to a press release from the Macon County Economic Development Commission released this week.

The company plans to create 121 jobs and invest $4 million in local operations over the next three years.

The project was made possible in part by performance based grants from Macon County ($61,500), the Town of Franklin ($61,500) and the One North Carolina Fund ($56,000). These grants are contingent upon a combination of verified job creation and investment performance benchmarks. Appropriate “claw-backs,” or a retraction of funds, are in place if performance measures are not met.

“This is an example of how government can step up and make a difference,” said Kevin Corbin, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. “This is something we needed to do for the good of the community. We worked hand in hand with the town of Franklin to make the deal happen. By helping save this business, it kept $16,000,000 in payroll here over the next five years. We are extremely happy with the purchaser. I think they are going to do great things here.”

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory released a statement Tuesday afternoon, commending local officials on the project.

“My administration is committed to partnering with businesses to help them succeed,” said Governor McCrory. “We must do more to align educational preparation and training with the needs of our manufacturers and other industries.”

Salaries will vary by job function, but the average annual wages for the new jobs will be $32,102, plus benefits. The EDC puts the average annual wage in Macon County as $29,516.

Last week, Thursday Feb. 28, town and county officials held separate meeting to address a requested economic development grant by the interested buyer of Whitley Products, Inc. The plant had recently announced plans to close if not purchased by early May. Just when it seemed officials had attracted a buyer, Franklin mayor, Joe Collins received a letter on Feb. 19 from Jill Chambers, Human Resource Manager stating Whitley's intent to issue notices to employees in accordance to the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and to most likely officially close between April 22 and May 6 of this year.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the Economic Development Commission (EDC), Franklin Aldermen, and the County Commissioners had been in negotiations with Tricorn Group PLC but looked to be about $100,000 away from being able to reach a deal. The purchaser was ready to leave the table and send officials back to the drawing board to devise a new plan before the plant permanently closed.

On Feb. 26, Corbin met with the mayor, Alderman Farrell Jamison, EDC Director Tommy Jenkins and County Manager Jack Horton to discuss the need for developing a new strategy of keeping the buyer from leaving the conversation. At town and county meetings two days later, both boards would unanimously approve a detailed economic development grant agreed upon by the governing bodies and the EDC.

Both the county and the town have agreed to make an initial payment of $33,500 in early March and additional payments of $7,000 each year for a period of four years beginning this year. The terms of the agreement are contingent upon the Tricorn Group's compliance with the terms expressed in the Economic Development Grant.

According to the agreement, in order to receive the monetary grants, the company must hire 121 employees in Franklin during 2013 and an additional five each year after, through 2017 with the intention of having 131 employees by the last year of the agreement. The purchaser also agrees that all full time employees will clock at least 40 hours each week and will be paid more than the average wage of earners in the town of Franklin according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce Finance Center and employees will receive health insurance and benefits that are similar to other businesses in Franklin.

“I think it's a good investment,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale, “Under the resolution, the company has to provide jobs so we'll have a stable workforce there for a long time. We can secure these jobs for Macon County citizens.”

The town and county used the services of Sanford Holshouser, an economic development consulting firm out of Raleigh to determine the effectiveness of the proposed grant and the benefits that the community would gain from the plant remaining open. The firm found that if the company meets the defined performance criteria then the investment will be sound and could potentially return more than planned for. According to the firm, the tax revenue alone would be enough to cover the incentives offered for the project and the town would benefit from indirect job creation and retail sales spending.

After deliberating in a closed session about the grant, the board of aldermen were able to justify the approval grant based on an expected growth in population for the town, more taxable property and the business prospects. The county commissioners agreed with the sentiment, also approving the resolution just up the street at the county courthouse. With the passage of the grant and the details in place, the deal was reached and there appears to be a future for the facility and its workers after all.

“We are thrilled to have Franklin Tubular locating in Macon County,” said Mayor Joe Collins. “Over 100 jobs will be saved, an existing manufacturing facility will be put to good use and there is opportunity for future growth and investment.”

“It is wonderful news to learn that Franklin Tubular Products has purchased the business and certain assets from Whitley Products to keep that operation and its 100 jobs in Franklin,” said Sen. Jim Davis. “It is my understanding that an additional $4 million will be invested in the near future to modernize the plant. This achievement is the result of a collaborative effort by Gov. McCrory's office, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the Macon County Board of Commissioners, the Town of Franklin, the Macon Economic Development Corporation, and Advantage West. This is a great example of what can be accomplished when the appropriate stakeholders work together.”

“I am proud to see North Carolina Governor McCrory and the Department of Commerce, along with Macon County commissioners, working together to bring jobs to Western North Carolina,” said Rep. Roger West.


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