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Contributed photo / The former Eclipse plant on Allen Deakins Road in Pikeville will soon be converted into a production site for Virnig Manufacturing, Inc. to make skid steer attachments.

A 32-year-old, family-owned manufacturer of skid steer attachments is expanding production outside of its rural Minnesota plant for the first time with plans to retrofit an abandoned tool and die plant in Pikeville, Tennessee.

Virnig Manufacturing Inc. announced Monday it will invest $11.6 million to renovate and equip the former Eclipse plant on Allen Deakins Road in Pikeville and create 74 jobs.

"We're moving equipment in next week," said Lois Virnig, who co-founded the company with her husband Dean in 1989. "We hope to be in production by January."

Virnig will fabricate, weld, paint, assemble and ship the same products in the 62,000-square-foot Pikeville plant that it does at its corporate headquarters in Rice, Minnesota, where the company currently has 180 employees.

"We are excited for our first expansion outside of Minnesota and are grateful to partner with the state of Tennessee and Bledsoe County," Dean Virnig, president, Virnig Manufacturing, said in an announcement of the expansion. "Being family-owned and operated, our values lead us, and we are glad to be joining a place where we feel those values are reflected."

Virnig's product lines support many industries, including construction, landscaping, forestry and agriculture.

Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley said Virnig was initially showed the former Dura automotive plant, which had been targeted as the site of a promised 1,000 Textile Corp. of American mill that was never developed and ultimately resulted in its founders going to jail for defrauding state and federal governments on contracts and incentives. The Dura property was foreclosed upon in 2019, but legal disputes have kept the plant's immediate status uncertain and prevented Virnig from moving ahead with its plans, Ridley said.

Ridley said the county also showed the manufacturing prospect the site of the former Eclipse Manufacturing plant which closed in 2009 but has been maintained and leased to other tenants, including Robinson Manufacturing, until recently.

"We're delighted to get more than 70 jobs starting at $20 an hour — that will have a huge impact for our area," Ridley said. "We have 2,400 or so citizens who drive out of our county every day for employment elsewhere and this will allow some of those workers to work at home and have a satisfactory salary."

Bledsoe County is one of nine counties in Tennessee listed as economically distressed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and is eligible for extra state and federal aid. Last month, the non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate in Bledsoe County was 4.3%, which exceeded the statewide average rate of 3.5%.

"I greatly appreciate Virnig Manufacturing for selecting Pikeville as the site for its newest manufacturing operations," Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement Monday. "Job creation in rural Tennessee is a top priority for our state, and these jobs will positively impact the Pikeville community for years to come."

Pikeville Mayor Philip Cagle thanked the state for helping land Virnig in Pikeville.

"We have met with the owners on several occasions and believe they will be a great asset to our community," Cagle said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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