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Factory Deal to Bring 400 Jobs to Lakeland

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We can't have a Florida section without news from the city of Lakeland


Published Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Fibertech plans to hire up to 400 people making specialty glass products.

By Adrian Zawada

The Ledger

[email protected]

LAKELAND -- A Salt Lake Citybased investment group has purchased the former Owens-Brockway factory and plans to manufacture specialty glass products there, employing between 300 and 400 workers at full production capacity.

Fibertech Inc. plans to hire its employees locally, and production would start with 100 to 200 workers in the first quarter of 2005, company officials said. Construction would begin in the second quarter this year.

If Fibertech officials are able to finalize remaining contracts and agreements, the hirings would be the second significant economic boost for the city this year. In January, Verizon Communications Inc. said it would hire 200 call-center workers at its downtown office.

Half the jobs at the plant will require medium skills for production, officials said. Engineers and their staff will comprise a fifth of the workforce; sales and financial positions will comprise between 10 percent and 15 percent; and the remainder will be high-skill positions.

Fibertech Inc. is led by The Radman Group of Companies in Utah, an international family-led business that specializes in fiber technology in the glass industry. Property records show Peter Radman purchased one OwensBrockway parcel for $2.6 million in December. A business partner, Jean Hunter, bought a second parcel for $1.4 million.

Owens-Illinois spokeswoman Kelly Yoder confirmed the company sold the land in December. Owens-Brockway Co. was a subsidiary of Owens-Illinois, a container manufacturer based in Toledo, Ohio.

Fibertech officials already signed a contract with Lakeland Electric for its utilities and are seeking to extend Fairbanks Street to the plant in order to accommodate heavy-truck traffic that would otherwise use the residential West Bella Vista Street for access to the plant.

The Owens-Brockway plant, which once manufactured glass bottles for Anheuser-Busch, occupies about 105 acres and the manufacturing plant consists of several buildings that amount to 250,000 square feet.

The city has applied for $2 million in state grants on behalf of Fibertech to pay for the Fairbanks Street extension, said Greg James, the transportation projects manager for Lakeland.

The city plans to close the plant's entrance at West Bella Vista Street, James said.

Instead, the city's transportation engineers would extend Fairbanks Street over the CSX tracks, then north to the factory running parallel along the tracks, said Chuck Barmby, the city's transportation planner.

"We want to route all truck traffic in the neighborhood on to a more commercial-type road instead of a residential neighborhood," Barmby said.

The city expects to find out by Friday whether the state's Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development will award the grants. If the effort proves successful, Fibertech has agreed to match the state grants to fund the Fairbanks Street extension, Barmby said.

City officials are currently working with adjacent property owners to acquire slices of land to create the Fairbanks Street corridor, city officials said. Engineers also plan a traffic signal at Kathleen Road and Fairbanks Street to accommodate the increased traffic.

Fibertech officials are also considering signing an annexation agreement that would make the land part of the city of Lakeland, said Jason Willey, the city's coordinator.

If agreed to, the annexation process would start with the city providing water and wastewater utility services, he said. The property has strong redevelopment potential, he said, and it fits into the city's 2010 annexation goals.

It's too early to estimate how much tax revenue the manufacturing operations would generate.

Fibertech has signed a contract with Lakeland Electric for 60 months, or not extending beyond 2008, said Kevin Cook, a city spokesman. The company has agreed to a variable rate and estimates it will use 500 kilowatts a month, he said. The city commission hasn't ratified the contract yet, and it's not on the agenda for the meeting next week, Cook said.

Owens-Brockway was among Lakeland Electric's 10 biggest clients.

Fibertech has not agreed to lease the adjacent 150,000-square-foot blue warehouse, which sits on 11-acres owned by V.I.P Structure Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y.

Owens-Illinois leased the warehouse until last year, when its agreement expired. V.I.P. Structure's director of operations, Jeff Anderson, said the warehouse is available and the company is negotiating with potential clients.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection is currently monitoring a clean-up effort at the former Owens-Brockway plant, said Merritt Mitchell, a spokeswoman.

Owens-Illinois shut the OwensBrockway plant in October 2000, laying off 193 workers.

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