A Belgian manufacturer of textile and carpet machines will move a plant to Chattanooga from Dalton, consolidating operations across the U.S. at a 35,000-square-foot facility on Relocation Way, in Ooltewah, company officials said.
The move by Belgium-based NV Michel Van De Wiele, one of the largest manufacturers of textile machines in the world, gained notice for moving the company away from the traditional carpet capital in Northwest Georgia and toward a location nearer to competitors Card-Monroe Corp., and Tuftco in Chattanooga, which all produce machines for Dalton carpet makers.
"Chattanooga is the birthplace of tufting with a long tradition in the flooring industry," said Charles Beauduin, CEO of Van de Wiele. "We see many Chattanooga businesses leading in their respective fields, and that bodes well for the future of the area."
The new plant, scheduled to begin begin operations by Christmas 2014, will increase the company's sales and manufacturing workforce to 35 from 22 currently at the Dalton plant, once the $5 million Chattanooga operation is up and running. The company will move its Charlotte, N.C. headquarters to Chattanooga as well.
With carpet sales mostly flat across the country, a reinvigorated Van De Wiele could challenge rivals for market share in the competitive carpet world.
"I think that it's within scope of taking market share, but we're also fairly optimistic that there is some fairly organic growth in the carpet industry," said Bob Harding, president of Van De Wiele USA. "We see this as an investment in the future, not just for our company, but for the flooring industry as a whole in the U.S. We're very much committed to developing the market and serving the market."
Van De Wiele has been planning the move for nearly a year following its acquisition of Cobble, a former part of the Singer sewing machine company, in 2013.
"We took a little time to look at what we had, and how best to move forward, and this was the culmination of that," Harding said.
At the time of its acquisition, Cobble did not own its own building in Dalton, but instead was leasing the space, Harding said.
"We acquired the business, but we did not buy the building," Harding said.
At one point the world's largest tufting equipment maker, Cobble declined amid rising pension obligations and recessionary pressure. The company in 2013 employed about 140 workers, many of whom worked at its troubled Blackburn, England plant, which lost $327,000 on sales of $20.8 million in 2011.
Van De Wiele bought Cobble from the Wright family three years after the death of longtime owner Spencer Wright, who had originally purchased the company in 1976.
"We were looking for property along the I-75 corridor between Chattanooga and Dalton, and this was the best site we saw after several months of planning," Harding said.
Harding praised Chattanooga's proximity to Atlanta, with air links to the rest of North and Central America, as a big plus. The proximity to competitors will also allow customers to do all their tufting machine shopping in Chattanooga, without being forced to take a side trip to Dalton.
The new facility will include a sampling and development center for tufting, and the property will give the company room to expand in the future, officials said.
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