$100M Cerrowire plant becomes first tenant at Morgan Center Business Park in Hartselle
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
The multimillion-dollar Morgan Center Business Park in Hartselle – vacant since its first phase was completed a decade ago – will receive its first tenant when Cerrowire builds a plant there that is projected to create 131 new jobs.
Cerrowire, which already has a plant in Hartselle, has announced plans to build a $100-million, 270,000-square-foot facility at Morgan Center. The new plant will double its Morgan County workforce.
According to the project agreement approved Nov. 9 by the Morgan County Industrial Park and Economic Development Cooperative District, the jobs will have an average hourly wage of at least $25.99 per full-time employee, excluding benefits.
The Cooperative District Board, which controls the business park, approved the project agreement and lease, and the Hartselle City Council approved Cerrowire’s tax abatement request.
Cerrowire’s new plant — referred to as Project Phoenix until publicly announced — will produce metal clad cable, Cerrowire President Stewart Smallwood said, which will be marketed to commercial construction contractors.
“The past three or four years we’ve realized significant growth, and our customers have been asking for us to get into this product category. It’s a very popular cable in the market today,” Smallwood said. “It’s less labor intensive, so electricians who are struggling with labor prefer to go to MC cable so they can hang it and install it faster than the traditional conduit and wires. We need to add MC cable into our package to be relevant in the market space.”
Smallwood said it will likely be the first half of 2022 before dirt is moved at the industrial park, and advertising for jobs with the new facility should begin in the middle of 2022.
“Product coming off the line – first quarter of 2023 would be our current target,” Smallwood said.
He said the initial hires will be skilled machine operators, engineers, maintenance workers and supervisors.
In the project agreement, Cerrowire commits to employing at least 81 full-time workers by June 30, 2025, and 131 by Dec. 31, 2029.
The Cooperative District will provide an incentive of $1,500 per employee to Cerrowire.
The lease amount is nominal, at $100 for a 50-year term, and the company has a right to purchase the land during the lease term.
Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, called Cerrowire’s expansion into the Morgan Center Business Park “a win for the entire county.”
“The county and all municipalities have put a portion of their TVA in-lieu-of-tax dollars in this park for the bond issue, just like they did for Mallard-Fox Creek 25 years ago,” Nails said. “That area is right in the middle of Morgan County. All of the residents in the county will have easy access to the park.”
Nails said he has had several inquiries from industries interested in locating at Morgan Center over the past decade.
“We’ve had some close calls, or some others weren’t a good fit,” he said. “Either the wages weren’t high enough or they did something I didn’t want that type of industry to set the tone for that park. A lot of projects that looked there, we deemed not suitable for that business park.
“We’ve got other companies looking at the park at the moment.”
County Commission Chairman Ray Long joined Nails in saying the Cerrowire commitment could attract other industries into the park.
“I’m proud it’s a local company who is wanting to expand in there,” Long said. “It sends a strong message that Morgan County is a good place to work.”
Falkville Mayor Ken Winkles said Cerrowire is a “good neighbor,” and he’s excited about the new jobs.
“We’ve got to find some places for those people to live,” he said. “And it’s hard to find employees right now. It’ll be a challenge. I think they’ll come.”
State Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, said the location of the plant is significant.
“Cerrowire’s decision to locate an additional manufacturing facility in Morgan County speaks to the preparation of our workforce, the quality of life in our region and the continued strength of our economic future,” he said in a statement.
The company, founded in 1920 as Circle Flexible Conduit Co., has been headquartered in Hartselle since 1983. It also has plants in Georgia, Indiana and Utah.
Cerrowire is a Marmon/Berkshire Hathaway company.
The Cooperative District finished Phase 1 of Morgan Center in November 2011, but until now the predicted jobs and revenue have not come.
With the announcement that Mazda Toyota Manufacturing would locate in Greenbrier, Nails has previously said some Tier 2 automotive suppliers were expressing interest in Morgan Center Business Park, but that interest has not resulted in a tenant.
The original 2009 bond issue for the industrial park was about $16 million. The cost of buying the 135 acres was about $1.8 million. Development costs for the industrial park were about $5.2 million for new roads and utilities. Another $1.3 million was spent to extend water and sewer along Thompson Road in Hartselle to support the park and build a new sewer lift station.
The county refinanced the remaining bond money in 2016, netting about $10.8 million that has been used in additional improvements at the Morgan Center.
Morgan County and its municipalities pay for the bond service, with the payments apportioned by population, as they were for Mallard-Fox Creek Industrial Park. The total annual bond payments are about $1.2 million.