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As Scott Brown sweeps the floor of the former B.C. Vaughan plant, he talks about the relief of having a job again.
Albany Industries — an upholstered furniture company headquartered in New Albany, Miss. — announced last month that it would open a plant in Galax at the former Vaughan Furniture plant on Creekview Drive, bringing 335 jobs to the area over the next three years.
Albany Industries will invest $2.5 million to expand its company to Galax.
Brown, like many others, has been out of a job for the past couple of years. He had worked for Vaughan and Webb Furniture before they closed their plants.
“I’ve got kids and everything, so it’s been hard,” said Brown, who has been out of work since 2009. “This is just real exciting right now.”
Equipment arrived Monday morning, and workers have been busy getting the plant ready for operation.
Strolling through the plant, Mark Gosnell — vice president of operations for Albany Industries pointed out that workers, both from the Mississippi plant and newly-hired local employees, are fixing lighting and piecing together equipment.
Jerry Edwards, plant engineer from the main plant in Mississippi, showed the plans of how equipment would be laid out.
Gosnell said 10 locals already have been hired and 15 more will be added to the payroll within the next few days — in time for training on the production line, which will begin Nov. 28.
Furniture will be shipped out that same week, he said.
Trainers will be brought in from the plant in Mississippi for two weeks. After the workers in Galax are trained, they will instruct new hires as the plant progresses.
Gosnell said 100 workers are expected to be in place by early next year.
In the beginning, two production lines will be up and running. The first line will assemble eight different pieces, such as love seats and chairs, and the second line will assemble recliner-type furniture.
A third line will be set up in January 2012 that will allow experienced employees to continuously train new hires.
Running at full capacity on the first two lines, the plant will assemble 400-450 products per day. Because the third line will be used mainly for training, that line will produce only a small amount of furniture daily.
In the third year, five lines will be running full speed, producing 1,000-1,300 upholstered furniture pieces per day.
“As we get people trained, we will continuously set up lines, depending on how business is at that time,” said Gosnell.
The original idea was to train new hires on a temporary line at the Crossroads Institute in Galax, said Gosnell. But to be more efficient, Gosnell said the training will take place on the permanent line at the plant.
Gosnell said this was also due the progress that they have made at the plant in cleaning and receiving equipment.
As part of incentive funding, the city agreed to pay for space at the Crossroads Institute for training. Even though all the training will be done at the plant, the company has office space at Crossroads and is interviewing applicants there.
Separated into multiple phases, the plant will receive fabric that has already been cut and sewn, as well as wood components for frame parts, in the initial stage. Then, the Galax plant will upholster the frame parts, and a complete furniture product will be shipped to locations along the East Coast.
Gosnell said that soon, wood components for framing will be bought locally — within a 50 mile radius. Although the fabric pieces are being shipped in from China and Nicaragua for now, the Galax plant will cut and sew some pieces in the next year, which will be another training step.
Gosnell recently relocated to Galax from Hickory, N.C. He has been in the furniture industry for 30 years — since the age of 14. He has served as executive vice president of Bassett Furniture and as a division president of La-Z-Boy furniture.
In addition, Gosnell owned an import business in Asia, which he sold. He became linked to Albany Industries when he was helping to reorganize a company in Mississippi.
Projected employment is 100 employees for the first year, 150 additional employees for the second year and an additional 85 employees for the third year.
The average salary will be just over $24,000, plus benefits.
In addition to offering training and office space at the Crossroads Institute, city officials met with Albany Industries executives in April to develop an incentive package.
The city will invest $251,250 based on $750 per employee hired.
Also, $300,000 will come from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund; $680,000 will come from the Virginia Tobacco Commission; and training funds of $500 per employee will be provided through the Virginia Job Investment Programs.
The city has applied for a $350,000 grant from Virginia Department of Transportation to improve the plant’s entrance off Creekview.