A Tuesday morning grand-opening ceremony for VT Industries' new Hagerstown-area plant brought together company executives, and state and county officials, but the morning's real stars were the dozens of new VT employees who gathered to cheer the ribbon cutting.
"They are truly just a one-of-a-kind type group," General Manager Al Peine said of the plant's roughly 60 employees. "I've been in manufacturing 30 years and never been associated with a group of people like that. To come in, have never made a countertop before, and in 17 weeks they're hitting some good production goals and just doing a great job."
The company, which manufactures laminate countertops, architectural wood doors and stone surfaces, opened May 6 in the former Kongsburg Automotive plant at 101 Western Maryland Parkway.
For many of the employees, the building is a familiar one.
Greg Younker, a former Kongsburg Automotive employee, said he was one of about 15 to 20 employees from Kongsburg who were hired by VT Industries. Kongsburg Automotive closed Oct. 31, 2010, laying off 64 people.
After about five months out of work, Younker, of Falling Waters, W.Va., began work for VT Industries in March as the company readied the building for production. Now, he works as a postformer operator.
Dorothy Unger of Little Orleans, Md., who does housekeeping for VT Industries, also was familiar with the plant. She was a team leader and 13-year employee for Teleflex Marine, a boat parts manufacturer that shared the building with Kongsburg Automotive before closing in 2009.
"It's great to be back," Unger said. "It felt like home."
VT Industries invested about $11 million in the plant, including about $6.5 million in improvements such as renovating its office space, upgrading the electrical service and installing new deck doors, Peine said.
The company received a $10 million private activity bond from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, as well as a $150,000 conditional loan to help with the purchase, renovations and equipment costs. Washington County also issued a $112,500 conditional loan and approved the project for a fast-track program to expedite review and approval for the upgrades.
VT Industries President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Clausen thanked the state and county Tuesday for that assistance, calling the package "very competitive" and praising how quickly the incentive package was put together.
The incentives were a major factor in the company's decision to open in Hagerstown, Peine said.
Washington County Commissioner John F. Barr presented company officials with a certificate of merit commending them for creating new jobs and supporting economic growth, and Julianna Albowicz presented a senatorial certificate of welcome on behalf of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Maryland.
Joel McCrea of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development extended greetings from the state.
"We truly believe that VT's decision to move here represents well the quality of the work force that we have here, the strategic location of Washington County, and the business climate that the state of Maryland and our partners in Washington County are able to offer you," McCrea said.
The company hopes to hire additional workers, but that will depend on economic conditions and how business goes, Peine said.