The Sumter economy received it very own Halloween-style treat Thursday when Mount Franklin Foods, a Texas-based confectionery company, announced its plans to open a new local manufacturing facility.
Expected to bring 225 jobs to the area with a capital investment of $10 million, Mount Franklin will move into the facility recently vacated by Au’some Candy with plans to manufacture gummies and fruit-based snacks at the Sumter Industrial Park plant.
While rumors about a “significant” economic development had been hinted at by local elected officials for weeks and work crews had been seen outside the company’s new Sumter location preparing the plant earlier this week, Thursday’s unveiling was the first time the new company had been publicly discussed.
Greg Thompson, president of the Sumter Economic Development Board, said the opportunity to lure Mount Franklin to the area arose after local officials learned the equipment previously used at the Au’some plant had been purchased with plans to move the equipment back to Texas.
“We asked them for one opportunity to show them it might make more sense to keep the equipment right here and operate locally,” Thompson said.
The result, Thompson said, was a whirlwind recruitment, showing the El Paso-based company the community’s facilities, infrastructure, and educational resources. A local celebrity was thrown into the mix after it was learned the company’s CEO, Gary Ricco, was a big baseball fan.
“We will shamelessly pull out all the stops to get someone here,” said Sumter mayor Joe McElveen, pointing to Sumter-native and 1960 World Series MVP Bobby Richardson in the crowd.
The speedy recruitment effort was enough for Mount Franklin officials to change their plans and decide to open the Sumter location, despite their closest current facility being nearly 2,000 miles away.
“Everyone we worked with exemplified Southern hospitality,” said Ricco. “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.”
Stressing the importance for an educated workforce, Mount Franklin provided an additional treat when the company presented the Sumter School District with a $5,000 donation.
Local officials said they believe the jobs at the Mount Franklin plant will require a skill set many in Sumter already have, specifically because of the void created by the Au’some closing.
Back in 2011, the Chinese-based company announced a $6 million capital investment with plans to bring 120 new jobs to Sumter. Au’some, however, never reached employment expectations, and in March of this year closed its doors, laying off approximately 60 people.
The new facility could bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Even with recent declines in the area’s labor force taking many unemployed people out of the equation, Sumter still has the highest unemployment rate of any of state’s metropolitan areas. In fact, the Sumter Metropolitan Area unemployment rate – which includes all of Sumter County – was at 6.5 percent as of August 2016, giving Sumter one of the highest rates in the southeastern United States.