KINGSPORT — Canada-based Leclerc Foods Inc. is moving its U.S. headquarters and U.S. research and development from Pennsylvania to here, Sullivan County economic developers said Thursday.
That will add another 15 new jobs to the 70 eventually to be created when Leclerc opens a manufacturing and warehousing operation in the old Cartamundi Inc. building in the Northeast Tennessee Business Park later this year, officials of NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership said at the group’s regular board meeting at Northeast State Technical Community College in Blountville.
“They’re absolutely a first-class company,” said NETWORKS Chief Executive Officer Richard Venable, who along with other NETWORKS and economic development officials met recently in Kingsport with Leclerc officials.
Jack Lawson, director of economic development for NETWORKS, said most of the new jobs would involve operating, maintaining or repairing automated, computer-controlled equipment. Since other area industries use similar robots and/or automation, Lawson said Leclerc should present job opportunities for pending layoffs from GlaxoSmithKline in Bristol, Tenn., and recent layoffs from the Greenland plant of AGC Flat Glass in Hawkins County near Surgoinsville.
The family-owned Leclerc, founded in 1905 in Quebec City, plans to employ 70 people within a year in its new location.
Plans for initial employment at the operation, 10444 Wallace Alley St., are for 25 employees, according to a news release from Philadelphia-based real estate firm Biswanger, which handled the sale.
The operation is tentatively scheduled to start making granola bars in August or September, following some modifications to the building and installation of $35 million in equipment, including robots.
The Kingsport Economic Development Board earlier this month voted to approve a moratorium on the personal property tax on the equipment Leclerc is installing.
KEDB officials at the time said that when personal property taxes resume on year six, or 2014, taxes due would be about $150,000 based on a projected depreciated value of $11 million. The plan is for $15 million of new equipment to go in the first year, $10 million the second year, and the rest the ensuing years, Lawson said.
However, Leclerc is not getting a break on property taxes on the current building and land or a proposed expansion.
Leclerc’s current U.S. location is a cracker-making facility in Montgomery, Pa.
NETWORKS was first contacted about Leclerc by the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association in early December 2007 based on a referral from NETVRIDA’s Web site.
A visit to the region was then scheduled for mid-December with a customized itinerary for the international project team consisting of members from Northeast State Technical Community College, including President Bill Locke; project manager Tommy Olterman of the Tennessee Valley Authority; and NETWORKS staff.
Lawson said when Olterman took Leclerc officials into a local Food City during their most recent visit, they quickly identified products Leclerc makes.
Jean-Marc Lemoine, vice president of Leclerc, and Denis Leclerc, president of Leclerc USA, made the June 3 visit.
Betty Martin, director of business development for NETWORKS, said a pending contract would mean construction of more warehouse space at the old Cartamundi site, which includes an 88,500-square-foot building with 24-foot-tall warehouse space and 14 aces of land.
Leclerc bought the building and land for $2.7 million, according to property transfer records.
She and Lawson said the local work force, training opportunities at Northeast State and expandability of the building helped sell Leclerc on the Kingsport location, near Tri-Cities Regional Airport and Interstate 81.
Corporate offices are located in Quebec City, Canada, and the company also owns and operates four manufacturing facilities there.
Venable said NETWORKS hopes to help put locally produced Leclerc products on store shelves.
The company manufactures cookies, granola bars, crackers and breakfast cereals for a multitude of customers. The products are currently sold in more than 20 countries worldwide, although the cereal is not sold in the United States and the company has discontinued its pretzel production.
For more information about Leclerc Foods go to the company’s Web site at www.leclerc.ca or to the NETWORKS site at www.networks.tn.com.