Guardian weighs expansion in Albion

State and local officials have opened the door for Guardian Fiberglass to expand its manufacturing operations in Albion, but a Guardian official said the company may be months away from a final decision.

Peter Walters, a group vice president with Guardian, would not divulge the specific Texas site competing with Albion for the expansion, but he did say the company is strongly considering the Albion site.

"A final decision has not been made on the expansion. It's true we're working on another site," Walters said. "Normally we wouldn't be so public about our plans, but the Michigan MEGA program requires us to provide at least one potential competing site so they have an idea of what incentives to offer."

According to Michigan Economic Development Corp. officials, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority program, through which the tax credits were approved, requires some prior commitment on the part of the applicant -- in this case, Guardian Fiberglass -- in the form of plans for development or expansion.

Guardian Fiberglass, at 1000 E. North St. in Albion, makes fiberglass insulation for residential and commercial buildings and plans to invest $26.5 million to expand its manufacturing operations, according to a press release from the MEDC.

The state has offered Guardian $1.6 million in tax breaks hoping to entice the 24-year corporate citizen to expand in Albion, according to a press release from the MEDC.

Walters said Guardian will announce the location for the expansion within the next couple of months.

"We just haven't put all the information together yet," he said. "The time of all these incentive meetings is close to our timing, but it's not exact."

Albion City Manager Mike Herman said the city council is expected to vote on two tax abatement proposals in the coming weeks, with one vote coming as soon as Monday.

Albion city officials said they are confident the council will approve both tax abatements in an effort to keep Guardian there.

Herman said he is hopeful Guardian chooses Albion for expansion.

"Guardian has been here for quite a while and they've been a good solid employer," he said. "You want to keep the companies you have, and if they decide to expand and you can get that expansion here, it's all the more likely they'll stay here."

A subsidiary of Guardian Industries in Auburn Hills currently employs 1,543 in the state, including 224 at the Albion facility. The Albion expansion could create 123 more jobs in the first year, and up to 150 jobs by the fifth year.

Albion has been struggling to draw jobs to the city since June of 2002, when the city's largest employer at the time abruptly stopped operations. Hayes-Albion, a 114-year-old foundry, closed in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings by its parent company, Harvard Industries, and cost the city about 500 jobs.

Walter said the two biggest factors Guardian is considering when selecting an expansion location is available transportation lines and energy costs.

"We need a reasonable electric rate and that has been one of our concerns in Michigan in recent years," he said. "We have been very supportive of electric restructuring in the past."

Other considerations are the availability of workers and cost of labor, Walters said, both of which work in Albion's favor.

"In Albion, we're looking at kind of average cost and very good quality of labor," he said.

Albion and MEDC officials have expressed a reasonable confidence in Guardian's selection of Albion for its expansion, but Walters said he wasn't as sure.

"I don't know the odds, but we're quite favorable towards Albion. We've had good experiences there, and it looks do-able to us," he said. "We're impressed with the efforts being made by the state and the community to recruit us. They've done a pretty good job of making us feel wanted."

600450 Guardian weighs expansion in Albion
Date: 23 June 2004

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