Manufacturing plant starts small as it plans Monday reopening

This coming Monday is the day Samuel Thornton has been working toward for almost two years – the resuming of production at Athens Mold and Machine.

The tire mold manufacturing company closed in 2011 when business dried up but Thornton, the plant’s general manager, is convinced the time is right for a comeback.

The restart will be small, with just four workers out on the floor and one in the front office. And the output will be limited as they take it slow to make sure the equipment is in good working order.

But Thornton is optimistic he can grow the payroll “into the three digits.”

“The sky’s the limit,” he said Monday. “I definitely see that 100 employees” is possible.

“The majority of the jobs are machinists,” he added, and they “get paid pretty well…an average of $17 an hour.”

At first, production will take place in 20,000 square feet of space at the plant, located on Mill Street. Then plans call for it to expand into the other two thirds of the facility in a total of eight phases.

A new roof was put on, and other improvements already have been made, with more to be done as manufacturing is increased and workers are added.

Thornton is the grandson of Jack Thornton, who founded Jax Mold and Machine, the parent company of Athens Mold and Machine, in 1969. Samuel Thornton is also the general manager of TeNac Inc. in Morrison, Tennessee.

The two plants – which make molds for companies that make tires – are owned by the Thornton family, along with a third, Caliber Mold and Machine in Akron.

“We are having a groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 8,” said Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council. She helped put together the $3 million it’s taking to reopen Athens Mold and Machine.

As much as half of that may come from grants from federal, state and local agencies, according to Samuel Thornton, who added, “This is a big investment on our behalf as well.”

In return for the grants, the company is promising to hire at least 60 workers over the next three years.

The reopening is a homecoming for Thornton, who first came to Athens with his family in 2000. He grew up here and calls it “a great place.”

“I worked out in the plant and got to know the guys out there,” he said. “I really liked it. (This was) during high school and college.”

He graduated from Hocking College and went to the Tennessee plant after the Athens plant closed but always wanted to return.

From The Athens News