Return of Athens Mold & Machine is celebrated

The return of Athens Mold and Machine to the city was celebrated Thursday at the plant by company officials and the public and private entities that helped bring it about.

“Today is truly a rising tide day,” said Mayor Steve Patterson. “It’s not only a rising tide, it’s a rebirth day.”

Athens Mold & Machine has owned the Mill Street facility since 1969 but production stopped in 2011, which a company official at be time attributed to the recession and tire companies shifting to overseas suppliers of molds. Since then, there has been a “reshoring” of the tire mold industry.

“They (Athens Mold & Machine) always held tight to the vision of reopening someday in the future. That future is now,” Sara Marrs-Maxfield, executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council, told the audience at Thursday’s celebration.

“All of us at Athens Mold & Machine are very pleased to be officially starting our activities in manufacturing once again,” said Sam Thornton, the plant’s general manager.

Thornton told The Messenger that an advantage that Athens Mold & Machine will have over foreign competitors — like those in China — is an ability to more quickly respond to new designs of tire companies and have molds delivered faster. Athens Mold & Machine will make and repair tire molds and related parts.

“Our prices are becoming more competitive to those in Europe,” he added.

The company has pledged to created 60 living-wage jobs by the end of 2019, although keynote speaker Kristi Tanner of JobsOhio told the audience that she wouldn’t be surprised if the company exceeds that number. JobsOhio has committed $400,000 in grant funding for facility and office renovations.

The plant began “cutting material” last month, although Thornton said that initially he wants to create a nucleus of a few fully trained workers before additional hires are made.

Someone helping with that effort is James Sweeney, of Athens, who worked at the facility for 50 years before retiring. He started in 1960 when the plant was owned by Abex Inc.

“They called me and asked me if I would come back and train people,” Sweeney explained as he took a break from operating a machine that was cutting a ring plate for a segmental tire mold.

Sweeney said his return from retirement is only temporary, but added, “I’m enjoying coming down and doing it.”

Several state, local and regional governmental, business and economic development entities came together to assist in bringing Athens Mold and Machine back into production in Athens.

“It was a long journey to be where we are now and we are very thankful for all the support and the grants that made this possible,” Thornton said.

Representatives of economic development programs at Columbia Gas and AEP Ohio were on hand Thursday to officially present grants to the company — $40,000 from AEP and $50,000 from Columbia. A $50,000 grant from Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Fund was previously announced, and its director, Don Branson, also spoke briefly at Thursday’s event.

Representatives of Congressman Steve Stivers and U.S. Senator Rob Portman were on hand to give congratulations.

Marrs-Maxfield said the project to return Athens Mold & Machine to production enabled the leveraging of funds for the upcoming extension of McKinley Avenue that will serve the company and other businesses. JobsOhio is providing $300,000 in roadwork funds, and the Appalachian Regional Commission has set aside $500,000. The road project, to which the city is contributing $250,000 in street funds, is expected to go out to bid in February.

“This was a regional effort that engaged all our economic development partners,” Marrs-Maxfield commented.

In July, the Athens County Commissioners approved a 10-year, 60 percent real estate tax exemption on improvements made by Athens Mold & Machine. Commission President Lenny Eliason, as chairman of the board of the Athens County Economic Development Council, gave closing remarks at Thursday’s celebration.

From The Athens Messenger  |  September 9, 2016