Milledgeville and Baldwin County are getting some good news in terms of economic development.
Fouts Brothers Inc., is moving its headquarters and main production facility to the old Rheem Company building off Roberson Mill Road in Milledgeville — generating 300 new jobs.
Fouts Bros. Inc. is planning an initial investment of $15 million into its new facility, including creating production lines for the 7,500 trucks the company produces annually and giving the building a new facelift.
The trucking company currently is based in Smyrna and is a longtime family-operated business. The company was founded in 1952 by C.J. Fouts. Fouts, a well-known car dealer in Smyrna for many years, died in 2005.
The company also has a wholly-owned subsidiary, Smyrna Trucking & Cargo.
“Our Fouts Bros. brand is for our fire apparatus, so we’re a fire truck manufacturer,” said Scott Edens, president and chief executive officer of Fouts Bros. Inc. “We build about 150 fire trucks [annually] and we want to double that number here.”
Edens, who is the father of two sons, ages 10 and 14, is one of the company founder’s grandsons.
“My grandfather was a good guy, and one of my best friends,” Edens said. “He would be shaking his head and saying, ‘Hey, you’re getting into another really big project.’”
Edens’ mother, Jan Edens, and his uncle, Tim Fouts, whose father founded the company, are still involved in the family business in investment and redevelopment of the property.
“I own the operations with my brother and sister as third-generation family members,” Edens said.
His sister is Stacey Kown, and his brother is Jake Edens.
Scott Edens said the family business will still operate in the same manner that it is has operated for many years with the exception of the company’s headquarters and major operations facility moving to Milledgeville.
“We’re still going to run this as a company business — we’re going to move here, work here and live here,” Edens said with a big smile. “And we’re going to be part of this community. We’re not going to be managing this from Cobb County.”
Edens said the Smyrna Trucking & Cargo brand, meanwhile, is a van bodied manufacturer, as well as a service truck distributor that sells to railroad companies and natural gas companies.
“We build all of their service vehicles,” Edens said.
Fouts Bros. Inc. has plans to redevelop the entire 92-acre tract and then lease out space to other companies interested in operating out of the large complex.
There is the possibility that the new redeveloped site, which was officially closed on a week ago between officials of Fouts Bros. Inc. and Rheem, could one day provide jobs for as many as 1,000 workers at the complex.
“We’re very excited about coming to Milledgeville and Baldwin County,” Edens said. “We’ve been tracking this property for a long period of time. However, we did not have originally the appetite to take on the redevelopment of the site. We needed about 300,000 square feet and initially, we were going to build a green field at our Social Circle facility, but ultimately King Industrial Realty Inc. and said they thought this property was a good opportunity.”
Edens, who already has purchased a home in Milledgeville, said the company’s new headquarters and main production facility allows most of the current employees from the Social Circle facility to be able to drive to the new facility or relocate in the Milledgeville area should they choose.
“Most of them are within driving distance, so we won’t be losing that labor force,” Edens told The Union-Recorder earlier this week. “We also had seen a large demand for a manufacturer because of Rheem’s closing its plant here, and other facilities. We truly felt like the labor force was here.”
Edens explained that once he and company officials were able to get the large building under contract and completed an environmental review, that it signified to him and others within the company that they could redevelop the site.
“We’re here in twofolds,” Edens said. “We obviously will have 300 jobs coming and we take over 340,000 square feet of this building, but this is also a secondary piece for us because we’re going to work with King Industrial to redevelop all 92 acres on this site.”
Edens pointed out that he and other company officials, along with King Industrial Inc. Senior Vice President/Partner Jason McCart and Vice President Bradley G. Bays, would love to see more companies become tenants in some of the tremendous building space that will not be used by Fouts Bros. Inc.
King Industrial Reality Inc. already has sold two of the company’s properties where facilities will be closing.
CenterState Bank in Smyrna is involved in financing the company’s new venture in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
Officials with that firm helped acquire the new property for Fouts Bros. Inc. in Milledgeville.
Edens said Bays took him and other company officials to look at their first facility 10 years ago.
“We have been under contract on two other facilities that have fallen through, and I’m happy that all the buildings we looked at and the ones we were actually under contract didn’t happen, because we’re extremely excited about this site,” Edens said. “This seems to be a great for us — not only for our business, but also for our family and developing a site that might become home to other companies that will provide new jobs here, too.”
“There won’t be a single tenant that offers 1,000 jobs, but ultimately, to replace what was here with Rheem, we’re hoping to redevelop this into an industrial/commercial space that is on the 92-acre site. We’ll be able to hit that number long-term and bring back that many jobs to Baldwin County,” Edens said.
Edens said his company will experience a transitional year in 2020 as they launch its new labor force in a 340,000 square foot side of the building complex, as well as to find two new tenants. Fouts Bros. Inc. will actually be located to the left of the building for anyone looking at the complex from the front side of Roberson Mill Road.
“So, long-term over the next few years, we will also look at the areas that will not be used by those tenants and we’ll start to develop that property, because there are 40-acres of industrial property on the backside of this building that Rheem never used,” Edens said. “That presents a great opportunity here in Milledgeville, too, to be able to create more light industrial area.”
Edens said Fouts Bros. Inc. came to the Milledgeville site June 1 and have been there every day since.
One of the first meetings that company officials had was with Hank Griffeth, who now is interim manager for the city of Milledgeville, but who formerly served as project manager with The Development Authority of Milledgeville and Baldwin County (DAMBC).
“He (Griffeth) was very helpful with all the details and they have worked with us on a tax abatement plan,” Edens said. “They’ve been great to work with.”
Edens said he and other officials with his company were excited to continue working with city and county officials to further promote local economic development.
“We’re very excited because right now there is a shortage of large buildings,” Edens said. “This Rheem building was built world-class. Everything that was done was done at a high-level. So, the bones of this structure are excellent. It’s fun just to see it all being brought back to life.”
Rheem left its Milledgeville facility 10 years ago and idled hundreds of employees when it moved its operations to Mexico.
“For this building to have been dormant for 10 years means there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and the time we start up our production line on Jan. 6,” Edens said. “We’ll have an initial investment of $15 million to just give the place a facelift and to get it ready for working. And then we expect to have our tenant improvements made, as we get new tenants here.”
Over the next five years, the future looks bright — not only for Fouts Bros. Inc., but for those living in and around Milledgeville and Baldwin County, because Edens is hoping those new tenants to the complex will create hundreds of new jobs, too.
“We would love to turn this into a world-class industrial park, and hopefully be able to bring up to 1,000 jobs over the next five years,” Edens said. “From a business perspective, one of the attractive items for us is that we bring in so many trucks and this facility offers so much parking room.”
Edens said it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find such a large industrial site with the type of amenities offered at his company’s new site.
“This was very unique for us because now we’ll be able to use the existing parking lots to park all our vehicles,” Edens said.
Milledgeville and Baldwin County’s newest company has hired Fatlilo Construction Company to manage the construction process.
“The building is just so big and the site is so large,” Edens said. “Rheem had such an extensive operation here that even though the building looks clear, there is still a lot of demolition and a lot of facelifts that have yet to be completed.”
The entire building consist of 677,000 square feet and it seems as though it also has 677,000 closets in it, too, which have to be cleaned out.
“So, we’re working on it on a weekly basis,” Edens said. “We’ve been taking about two dozen tractor-trailer loads of demolition product out of here for the last six weeks. The removal process is probably 90 percent done, but that last 10 percent on a site this big is still a lot of work ahead.”
The company’s first production line will be up and running Jan. 6, Edens said.
After the first production line is up and running, company officials plan to add a new production line every month through July of next year.
“We’ll start with our van body production, and then we’ll move to our fire apparatus lines, which we will have four of those,” Edens said. “And then we’ll start adding in our job shops late second quarter.”
Fouts Bros. Inc. did an acquisition of its Social Circle facility in 2005 and the company did an acquisition of its LaGrange, Texas facility, outside of Austin, in 2012.
“We will keep the Austin, Texas location, but we’re going to take our three locations in Georgia and combine them into this site,” Edens said.
The company already is accepting applications for its production line operations, as well as wielders and other positions.
“Our product portifolio is very diverse,” Edens said. “We have high-skilled labor jobs, such as weilders and painters. And we also have entry-level positions where you are a technician using simple air tools, material handlers, forklifts and cranes. It’s a great opportunity for anybody no matter what their experience might be.”
The company also offers what Edens described as a “great” training program, and the company also offers benefits.
An entry-level position could start off making between $14 and $15 an hour.
Welders and other highly-skilled workers would make considerably more than that per hour, he added.
Anyone interested in applying for a job with Fouts Bros. Inc. can call the company’s human resources director at 770-433-0112 and an application can be emailed to an applicant’s email address.
Edens said hiring will be phased in as the production lines open over the next few months.