By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Being from a country with a Catholic heritage, Friedrich Rather says he looked for a sign from God that Pulaski County was the right location for his company’s first American candle manufacturing plant.
The sign he received was “when we came here to Pulaski County, I realized my wife and I live in Warsaw, about 100 yards away from one of the main roads. Guess what the name of the road is? Pulaski Road,” said Rather, Korona S.A.’s chairman.
Rather made the comments during Friday’s announcement that the Polish company will be opening a manufacturing facility in the former TMD Friction building in Pulaski County Corporate Center at Dublin. The facility’s $18.3 million investment will provide 170 new jobs.
Albert Maiolino, with Korona’s American division for sales and operations, said the company plans to begin renovations on the plant in January. Resumes will most likely be reviewed in January or February and the hiring process may begin around March or April. Those interested in applying should visit the company’s website, www.koronacandles.com.
Korona will lease the plant from Pulaski County Industrial Development Authority, with an option to purchase.
Rather said the first products most likely will be coming out of the facility in late 2014. He said the entire TMD facility will be used for start-up operations, but there is enough land on the tract to provide for future growth.
He said one of the reasons Pulaski County was chosen was support given to the company by Pulaski County Board of Supervisors and the “open arms and welcoming of the county people.”
Founded 20 years ago in a small town about the size of Pulaski County, Rather said Korona started with 20 people and now has 820 at its manufacturing facility in Poland. The company currently manufacturers 8.7 million candles per day.
Korona’s success was the result of it having developed proprietary manufacturing processes, he noted.
“We are very technology driven. We have learned to use renewable raw materials instead of oil-based products. We have understood that we have to give first class service,” he said. “We also have understood there comes a time when you have to become a global manufacturer of candles. We have to be where our customers are and the United States candle market is the largest in the world.”
Being close to the customer “takes complexity out of the supply chain,” he said, adding that the product is delivered on time, the company saves in shipping and other costs and it also reduces it’s carbon footprint.
Rather said he is convinced, from talking to other area manufacturers, that Korona will be able to find good employees with a strong work ethic. Employee training services available through New River Community College also was a plus in the decision to choose Pulaski County and Virginia.
The company also considered North Carolina.
“A company usually has a vision and we are no exception,” said Rather. “Our vision is to become a global supplier for global customers, so we need to be where our customers are. We also dream an American dream; we want to become the number one private label candle manufacturer in the world over the next few years.
“If our vision becomes true – and we will work very, very hard for it – then within five to seven years the number (of employees) can be substantially higher.”
Korona received a $160,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to help make the project a reality. Rather said, “we do not consider this a gift. We consider it an obligation. An obligation that we promise to pay back to the community one day by becoming a good employer, becoming a proactive and respected member of the community, and – last, but not least – one day becoming a taxpayer here.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell came to Pulaski County Friday to announce Korona’s decision to locate here.
“I’m honored to say this is another international company that will now have its roots planted in Pulaski County,” he said. Red Sun Farms, which is under development, and Phoenix Packaging also are international companies. He pointed out that Virginia now has 780 international companies in operation.
McDonnell said other factors that made Pulaski County an attractive fit for Korona was the proximity of rail and interstate access, having additional land at the plant for future expansion and proximity to area colleges and universities.
He also pointed out that Korona also will be part of Walmart’s commitment to American renewal in which the retail chain will purchase an additional $50 billion of U.S.-manufactured products over the next decade to help grow U.S. manufacturing and create jobs.
As a result of this partnership, some of the candles manufactured at the Dublin facility will be distributed at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores nationwide. Walmart already carries tealight candles manufactured by Korona’s overseas plant.
McDonnell recognized several people and organizations for their part in making the project a reality, including Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, New River Valley Economic Development Alliance (and Aric Bopp), Pulaski County Community Development Department (and Shaun Utt), Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development, New River Community College, which he called “the best value in town” and Walmart.
The governor attributed the New River Valley’s success in attracting new industry over the past few years to the fact the jurisdictions making up the NRV are marketing the region as a whole (and locating manufacturers where they best fit) rather than competing against one another. He called that strategy “critically important.”
Sheffey said the board of supervisors are “very pleased to welcome another international company joining our industrial community in Pulaski County. Korona S.A. represents the continual diversification of our industrial base, which strengthens our local economy and employment opportunities.”
He said the county is also pleased that Korona chose to locate in a “previously vacant, high-quality industrial building” and is appreciative of the investment by McDonnell, “the assistance of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the initiative of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance and the dedication of the county economic development staff.”
He added, “more and more businesses are realizing we not only walk the walk, we talk the talk” and that “we already know that the county is a great place to live and work and a community of vision, pride and excellence.”
In addition to the $600,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, Korona also qualifies for rail access funding from Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, is eligible to receive state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program of Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, will be eligible for Sales and Use Tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment, and will receive funding and services to support recruitment and training through Virginia Jobs Investment Program.