Note: This story was last updated at 11:35 a.m. Feb. 3.
Protomet Corporation on Tuesday announced a $30 million, 200-job expansion, but the landlocked company could move to another county—or even another state.
Protomet is now located in the Bethel Valley Industrial Park in south Oak Ridge.
The company hopes to break ground on the 100,000-square-foot expansion in June and plans to add 200 new jobs during the next five years. Protomet now has 70 workers in a 40,000-square-foot building on eight acres, so the company would more than triple in size.
Besides staying put, Protomet is also looking at sites in Roane County (the Horizon Center in west Oak Ridge), Loudon and Monroe counties, and South Carolina. The company is looking at some tracts of land outside Anderson County that are more than 25 acres. Protomet needs about 25-30 acres for the expansion, and right now, it doesn’t have it.
Oak Ridge officials are scrambling to keep Protomet, which started in 1997, in Oak Ridge, and they have scheduled a Friday meeting to discuss the Horizon Center site.
The Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board and Protomet have asked the U.S. Department of Energy to consider transferring about 25-30 acres of land west of Protomet and east of Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the company’s expansion. But the IDB was told Monday that the land transfer could take a year or more.
“That is too long,” said Jeff Bohanan, Protomet founder and chief executive officer. “We have to look at all of our options…Our desire is to break ground in June.”
During a Tuesday morning press conference, Bohanan said the company has some options available immediately. But it would be most cost-effective to stay at the current site, he said. And Protomet has had a very successful relationship with the City of Oak Ridge, Bohanan said.
Protomet serves customers in the aerospace, automotive, military, and homeland security industries, including companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Boeing. The company describes itself as an Oak Ridge-based engineering, manufacturing, and technology company.
Recently, it’s had growth in the marine industry. On Tuesday morning, some employees on the factory floor were making guard rails and arm rests for boats.
Three years ago, Bohanan said, Protomet committed to invest $6.25 million in an earlier expansion and add jobs.
Today, he said, the company can announce it actually invested more than $10 million and exceeded the job growth numbers.
“We have exceeded our projections by more than 50 percent,” he told reporters.
The 2013 expansion more than doubled the size of the company’s operations in Oak Ridge.
The company also added a $1.5 million aluminum finishing line. That means Protomet can take aluminum all the way from raw material to finished product, a unique capability.
Bohanan, who once worked at the Y-12 National Security Complex, said work on the new Protomet facility could take 10 months, and executives expect it to be fully operational in early 2017.
He said Protomet is starting new projects this year, including some outside the marine industry, although he didn’t elaborate on what they are.
Protomet said it has a proprietary line of products marketed under the award-winning PTM Edge Watersports brand that makes and markets boat mirrors and wakeboard tower components for boats. The company has been named one of Tennessee’s Fast 50 (the state’s fastest growing companies) and has experienced more than a 500 percent increase in sales since 2005.
Hiring for the 200 new jobs could start in the next six months, Bohanan said. For more information, visit www.protomet.com.
The Oak Ridge City Council approved a five-year, 100 percent tax break for the last Protomet expansion in April 2013. That payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement applied only to new investment at Protomet’s eight-acre site in the Bethel Valley Industrial Park.
Plans then called for another 21,000 square feet of space, an enlarged assembly area, and more space for machining tools. The expansion was also expected to allow the company to consolidate with 4FinalFinish, an aluminum finishing business that Protomet took over in 2008. 4FinalFinish had previously operated independently in Blount County.
In June 2013, Bohanan was already considering another expansion.
Protomet’s first expansion was in 2005. The company received a four-year, 100 percent tax abatement for its first expansion.
In January of this year, Parker Hardy, president of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, told the IDB that Protomet has grown consistently.
The only place for Protomet to expand is to the west, but that land, which is east of ORNL, is owned by DOE. Officials have discussed the potential land transfer with DOE, which would rather transfer it to the IDB for development. The land is part of a larger 214-acre parcel west of Bethel Valley Industrial Park and parallel to Bethel Valley Road.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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