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A new state-of-the-art carpet mill in Northwest Georgia soon could add more than 2,000 jobs to the state's manufacturing base.
Planned by Engineered Floors -- the carpet dynamo founded by industry pioneer Bob Shaw -- the new plant would mark the largest single job addition in the region since Amazon located two distribution centers in Chattanooga and Bradley County, Tenn., in 2010.
With help from Georgia's taxpayers, the new facility would add an exclamation point to carpet's comeback, after the industry -- and much of the Northwest Georgia economy along with it -- languished through the U.S. housing downturn. After shedding nearly one-fourth of its employment from 2006 to 2012, the Dalton area is bouncing back. Carpet sales last year were up 2.5 percent on a dollar basis, or about 5 percent in terms of pounds sold, according to Floor Focus magazine.
Neither Engineered Floors nor the state were ready to make an announcement about any new plants Monday, but sources confirmed that Engineered Floors is looking to expand.
"Any project of that size will be announced at the state level," said James Lesslie, assistant to the chairman at Engineered Floors.
Alison Tyrer, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said she was "not able to comment on projects that might be active."
Ron Harr, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive, said 2,000 jobs in the area's labor shed would be a big help to the region.
"We're one unified region," he said.
Harr noted that people travel back and forth between Northwest Georgia and Chattanooga to work.
"We already have some huge numbers of people who come to Chattanooga," he said, noting that a number travel south into Georgia to work, as well.
Harr said the Chamber-driven Thrive 2055 regional growth plan is studying how one big jobs announcement may affect other parts of the 16-county area.
"This is one regional economy," he said.
In previous discussions with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Shaw has hinted that the company was preparing to boost capacity after running out of space at its Georgia facilities in Calhoun, Dalton and Chatsworth.
"We'll be accelerating our growth by the end of the year," Shaw said in an interview with Edge, the monthly business magazine published by the Times Free Press.
The company's growth has been one nonstop acceleration since Shaw came out of retirement to jump-start it in 2009. In the first four years alone, Engineered Floors grew from zero to 1,000 employees. The company caught its big break making beige carpet for the fast-growing apartment market, but acquired Dream Weaver Carpets and gained a foothold in the single-family residential market -- and the all-important retail stores -- in 2011.
Though the new plant will cap off a series of recent gains in the multifamily and single-family flooring markets, all of the company's growth will be organic, said Kemp Harr, publisher of Floor Focus Magazine.
"He'll end up taking market share from other people," Harr said. "We've suffered almost a six-year slump, and the numbers are looking better, the market is recovering -- but not at that pace."
Shaw formerly served as top executive at Shaw Industries, which still bears his name, but sold it in 2000 to billionaire Warren Buffett and left the top post in 2005. He now competes with and has taken market share from his namesake as well as others.
The precise location of his new facility remains unknown, but the effects from such a plant could be felt far and wide thanks to indirect jobs in support of the new mill.
Engineered Floors already is having an impact on the Walker County seat, LaFayette, said Walker County Economic Development Director Larry Brooks, even though the company hasn't built a single plant in the county.
Dixie Dye & Chemical, a LaFayette wholesale supplier of quality dyes, pigments and chemicals, will supply Engineered Floors, Brooks said, and has already added on to its facility on U.S. Highway 27.
"They've added some equipment, and I think they've hired a few more employees," Brooks said.
Staff writer Tim Omarzu contributed to this story.