LANETT, Alabama – At a ceremony today to mark the re-opening of Knauf Insulation’s mothballed Chambers County plant, CEO Mark Andrews said relationships played a major role in the company’s decision to restart operations in Alabama rather than seek a new location.
“At every single stage of this, we really felt we were wanted in Alabama,” Andrews said. “We felt we were welcome, which was very important to our decision-making process.”
Andrews joined Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield and Chambers County leaders in Lanett at an event today to mark the re-opening of the 800,000-square-foot plant, which employs 120 people.
Andrews said the Indiana-based company evaluated other possible locations for the operation. Before making its decision, Andrews said Knauf Insulation considered factors ranging from the availability of worker training programs to whether state and local officials were supportive of the project. The quality of the workforce in Chambers County was also key.
Chambers County came out on top as the company sized up the business case for the operation, he said. Activity at the Lanett plant resumed late last year, and it is now the Southeast’s largest insulation plant.
“We wouldn’t be opening there if it weren’t the right place to be,” Andrews said. “We wouldn’t be in Alabama if we thought we couldn’t succeed here. It was really the best choice for us.”
Commerce Secretary Canfield said Knauf Insulation’s decision to re-open the Lanett facility demonstrates how Alabama’s business-friendly environment and highly skilled workforce can be decisive factors for companies. “Alabama will continue to provide support to companies like Knauf and help them achieve success because it benefits both sides,” he added.
Knauf Insulation’s Chambers County plant recycles 835,000 glass bottles each day, turning those bottles – 300 million a year – into glass strands that become energy-saving insulation used in buildings.
In a way, the Lanett plant is living out its own recycling story. The facility, which opened in 1988, was shuttered in June 2011, following the collapse of the residential construction market. Its future in the east Alabama city of 6,400 residents was uncertain until Knauf Insulation began preparing for a recovery in the construction business.
The news of Knauf Insulation’s return has been cheered in Chambers County, a former center of textile and apparel manufacturing which had seen that industry disappear, taking thousands of jobs with it.
Valerie Gray, executive director of the Chambers County Development Authority, said the re-opening of Knauf Insulation’s facility will help to diversify the area’s manufacturing sector, which includes a concentration of auto suppliers that have arrived in recent years. The Hyundai plant in Montgomery stands 80 miles away from Chambers County along Interstate 85, while the Kia plant is just minutes away in West Point, Ga.
“Knauf’s decision to re-open the Lanett facility is a tremendous win for our area and for the State of Alabama on so many levels,” Gray said. “Out of all the other areas they could locate or other facilities they could update, they chose us.”
Gray said Chambers County officials maintained close contact with Knauf Insulation leaders after the decision to shut down the plant in hopes that the company could one day return.
“I think this decision speaks volumes of the relationships that we as a county and state have built with the Knauf team,” she said. “I’m proud to know, that when it comes to economic development and a conducive business environment, Knauf knows we can deliver.”
Andrews said the partnership developed with Alabama and Chambers County officials was an important factor in the decision to reinvest substantial capital in the Lanett facility.
The plant’s re-opening was first announced last spring. As Knauf Insulation moved to resume operations in Chambers County, the company was assisted by the Alabama Department of Commerce’s AIDT division, one of the nation’s top-ranked worker training agencies.
The Knauf Insulation plant in Lanett essentially operates as a giant furnace that melts glass bottles and turns the material into insulation for buildings. The technology at the plant is so advanced that it can take one bottle and turn it into a glass strand that is 3,000 miles long.
Knauf Insulation, part of the international Knauf family of companies, operates 40 plants around the globe, with $2 billion in annual sales. The company says the insulation produced at the Alabama plant saves 12 times as much energy per pound in its first year of use as it took to produce that insulation.
Andrews said Knauf Insulation’s Alabama operation looks forward to striking partnerships on energy efficiency and recycling in the state.