HATTIESBURG — Ten or 15 years ago manufacturing was only a minor part of the economy of the Hattiesburg area. That changed dramatically with the landing of the large Sunbeam plant followed by a string of other manufacturers attracted in its wake.
Robert Ingram, executive director of economic development for the University of Southern Mississippi, said the manufacturing presence in Hattiesburg has grown significantly.
“And it continues to grow stronger,” Ingram said. “Manufacturing is somewhat overshadowed by the education and medical communities, but the stature of the companies who have moved in over the past seven to eight years is very, very strong and the community continues to be a hotbed of industrial prospects.”
Ingram judges that to some extent the growing manufacturing economy has helped offset federal budget cuts to hospitals and health care providers, and state budget cuts to USM. He said if the cuts to the university and medical centers had happened 10 years ago, they would have had a much greater effect than before manufacturing emerged as a dominant force.
“Manufacturers are important to the greater Hattiesburg area because they offer numerous employment opportunities and provide diversity in our economy,” says Gray Swoope, president of the Area Development Partnership. “Our industrial sector accounts for approximately 14.4% of the jobs in the Hattiesburg Metropolitan Statistical Area. We have a solid manufacturing base that is continuing to expand. Manufacturing is one of the top three employment sectors in our area with the other two being service and retail trade. We truly value what it contributes to our area economy.”
Owens-Illinois building plant
The newest large manufacturer to locate in the Pine Belt area is Owens-Illinois, a Fortune 500 company that is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of packaging products. It is the largest manufacturer of glass containers in the U.S., North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and China. The company or one of its affiliates or licensees makes about half of the glass containers manufactured worldwide. The company is also a leading recycler of glass containers in the U.S., and recycles nearly a million tons of glass each year.
Tim McAshlan, Owens-Illinois manufacturing manager, said the company decided to locate at the HattiesburgForrest County Industrial Park because the area offered the most competitive economic package among all cities evaluated. The clustering of plastic-related businesses in the area was also considered a major plus.
“We looked at numerous communities but really liked the area’s resources in the polymer industry,” McAshlan said. “We were also very impressed with the spirit of cooperation and can-do attitude of the community. The Hattiesburg community offers an excellent quality of life and strong local support for the future needs of our company.”
“Once again the competitive strength in the polymer industry will result in new jobs and investment for the region,” said Swoope.
Groundbreaking for the $20-million facility on a 10-acre site was held May 13, and the building is expected to be finished in November. Equipment will then be installed with production expected to begin in January.
The facility, known as a closure plant, will produce plastic caps for the beverage and juice industries, employing about 50 people initially. The contractor for the project is VIP Structures, Syracuse, N.Y.
Owens-Illinois will be the sixth polymer or plastic-related business in the Hattiesburg/Forrest County Industrial Park. Other facilities include Western Container, Excel Injection Molding, Sunbeam, Dickten & Masch and JPM of Mississippi.
Western Container growing
Western Container Corp. is currently in the midst of a $13-million, 100,000-square-foot expansion. The manufacturer of plastic bottles for Coca-Cola bottlers began production in 1999, and last year shipped nearly 600 million bottles to Coca-Cola bottlers in Mississippi and surrounding states.
Western Container is adding new injection molding presses that will provide an increase in existing capacity of 30%, and will also be making plant infrastructure improvements. Western Container currently employs 113 people and has a projected payroll for 2001 of more than $3 million.
Murray Envelope layoffs
The new jobs from the Western Container expansion combined with the Owens-Illinois hirings are expected to help soften the blow from the layoffs of 200 workers at another Hattiesburg manufacturer, Murray Envelope.
Mail-Well Inc., the parent company of Murray Envelope, recently announced plant consolidations affecting its envelope manufacturing division. Murray Envelope is one of nine Mail-Well envelope units that will be gradually shut down over the next 12 to 15 months.
However, Mail-Well plans to expand its Barkley Filing products manufacturing operations at Murray Envelope, and will hire some of the employees being laid off from the envelope operations.
“Despite the recent decision to close the envelope manufacturing operations in Hattiesburg, the Barkley Filing products operations located in the same plant will be expanding,” said Dave Schuermann, vice president and general manager of Mail-Well’s Hattiesburg plant.
About 400 people are currently employed at Murray Envelope, and the company said “a significant number” of employees being laid off from the envelope division will be hired by the Barkley Filing operations.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.