published Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

South Pittsburg goes from flooded to floored, aided by $40 million Shaw expansion

BY THE NUMBERS

• $40 million: Value of planned Shaw expansion in South Pittsburg

• 200: Jobs at the plant now

• 25: New jobs anticipated

• 3,000: Approximate population of South Pittsburg

  • photo
    Jason Hoosier, left, and Lori Bundy, right, work with others to inspect and flip boards, placing their best side up while at Shaw Industries’ South Pittsburg, Tenn, hardwood manufacturing facility on Tuesday.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

  • Flash flood hits downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn.
    Heavy rains late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning brought flash flooding to downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn. The flooding, which left a layer of mud throughout downtown, damaged many area homes and businesses.
  • photo
    Mud from a July 10 flash flood covers the sidewalk along Cedar Avenue in South Pittsburg.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Shaw Industries Group's $40 million investment in its South Pittsburg, Tenn., plant is the latest in the company's efforts to return to early-2000s production and employment levels and the most recent boost to Marion County's jobs picture.

Company officials said Tuesday that the investment will expand production capacity by more than 60 percent and create at least 25 jobs to meet growing demand for Shaw's "Epic" line of hardwood flooring produced at the facility. The plant now has about 200 employees after adding 65 jobs earlier this year.

Local officials are cheering the announcement and say it's yet another sign of an economic rebound in Marion County.

"We're beginning to have some small business activity with some service and retail shops opening up," South Pittsburg Mayor Jane Dawkins said Tuesday. "Just in the last few months, there's been a new dress shop, a coffee shop, a nail salon and U-Haul store, and a bakery will be opening in October."

A recently announced $25 million expansion at Lodge Manufacturing and Shaw's planned expansion will bolster those businesses and provide jobs to support more business growth, Dawkins said.

Shaw's $40 million investment "shows a permanent commitment to the community," the mayor said. The addition of 25 jobs in the town of around 3,000 people "is certainly a boost to the job market here," she said.

The town is continuing to see growth in its downtown area despite the ongoing recovery from severe flooding in June, Dawkins said. The flash flooding late July 10 and early July 11 inundated parts of downtown with fast-moving waters up to two feet high and left mud 6 inches deep in places. It took days for residents to shovel the muck out of homes and stores, sidewalks and streets, and begin to return to normal.

Today, downtown home sales seem to be picking up, and expanding industry only will improve those numbers.

"I think small, well-run towns are becoming more attractive to businesses," she said.

Shaw's South Pittsburg plant has experienced peaks and valleys, including a mass layoff in 2004 of almost 400 workers when the then-spun-yarn plant was shut down as tastes for flooring in the construction industry began to change. The plant was reopened in 2006 with a $20 million investment to start making the hardwood flooring it produces today.

Since the 2006 reopening, Shaw's hardwood flooring plant in South Pittsburg has become the largest "engineered flooring" facility of its kind in the world, officials said. The plant is "the most sophisticated and technologically advanced" hardwood flooring manufacturing facility in Shaw's portfolio.

Construction for the expansion will begin later this year and will build on the "recovery and stabilization that we saw of the past few years," Shaw spokeswoman Susan Rich said in an email on the expansion.

"2013 has been a year of positive growth for Shaw," Rich said. "Residential construction is growing again. Commercial markets remain strong. Our investments in the business remains strong and employment is improving."

In the past month, Shaw "has announced plans to invest more than $225 million in our operations in Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee," she said. "These facility expansions and technology enhancements will bring more than 700 new jobs to the region."

Marion County Mayor John Graham said the uptick in South Pittsburg is reflected countywide. Marion County's jobless rate in July was 9 percent, down from 9.6 percent in June. The comparable unemployment rate in July for the U.S. was 7.7 percent and the Tennessee rate was 8.5 percent.

"There's no question that the economy's changing in a positive manner in our county as evidenced by the Shaw announcement," Graham said, additionally listing recent or announced expansions at Lodge Manufacturing, Tennessee Galvanizing Co., Valmont Industries, and the start of construction of a new fire log company in Whitwell.

"I think it's key that our existing industries are expanding, because that not only creates new capital investment and new jobs but it helps retain the jobs that are already there," he said. A fire log company called Prologue is going up in Whitwell that will create 100 jobs, and a Love's Travel Plaza is under way near Interstate 24, generating 60 jobs, he added.

Shaw officials say the company is on the comeback across the region.

"Carpet and hardwood are both growth categories for Shaw," Rich said. The company has invested $26 million in hardwood operations in Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

"These announcements build upon other business improvements that have been made already this year, including the addition of 1,170 new associates in Georgia so far this year and more than 65 new associates at the South Pittsburg hardwood manufacturing facility," she said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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