S.C. Firm Picks Person County for Armored Vehicle Plant

U.S. soldiers and Marines stationed overseas could soon be operating heavily armored, high-tech vehicles that were built in Person County.

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ROXBORO, N.C. — U.S. soldiers and Marines stationed overseas could soon be operating heavily armored, high-tech vehicles that were built in Person County.

Force Protection Inc., a South Carolina-based firm, said Thursday that it would open an assembly line for “Cheetah” armored vehicles in an abandoned automotive textiles plant in Roxboro. The "Cheetah" is designed to counteract deadly improvised explosive devices and mines.

The plant will create 270 jobs, with an average annual wage of $30,276 plus benefits, and the company will invest $31 million in the facility, Gov. Mike Easley announced.

Collins & Aikman closed the 430,000-square-foot plant, which made textiles for automotive interiors, last year, eliminating 545 jobs.

"To see this facility and to look at it and think that it's going to be bustling again with a new type product, it's just a wonderful thing for this county," Person County Commissioner Larry Bowes said. "It was probably one of our darkest times in years to hear that C&A was pulling out completely and letting all their workers go. It really let the air out of the bag, you might say."

North Carolina and local governments offered Force Protection incentives worth about $3 million to pick the Tar Heel State for its expansion.

“North Carolina and Person County understand the urgency of delivering more of our life-saving products to our armed forces and have worked with us to identify the right set of facilities and resources to accomplish that mission,” Dan Busher, a Force Protection executive vice president, said in a statement. “The broad-based community involvement in understanding our needs and proposing solutions has really been outstanding.”

Renovation work will start soon on the plant, and company officials said they hope to be in operation by September. Officials said they expect to produce about 2,000 Cheetahs at the plant in 2008.

"We certainly have the work force that's ready and willing. Some are trained, and some are not," Bowes said.

Force Protection is under contract to build hundreds of vehicles specifically designed to defeat the effects of IEDs and land mines. Vehicles also are equipped with sensors and other high-tech gear to combat the explosive devices.

The Cheetah is the company's newest vehicle and is designed for reconnaissance as well as command and control. All of the company's armored vehicles, from much larger Cougar and Buffalo models to the Cheetah, have received praise from U.S. servicemen. ABC, CBS and cable television shows have reported about Force Protection and its vehicle lineup.

Easley, legislators and trade groups like the North Carolina Technology Association have been making concerted efforts to expand the defense-related industrial base in North Carolina. The state is home to major bases like Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and units stationed in North Carolina are heavily involved in the global War on Terror.

“The military presence in North Carolina has an $18 billion impact on our economy,” Easley said. “Our focus on being the most military-friendly state in the nation attracts defense-related businesses that want to grow and expand.”

NCTA Chief Executive Officer Joan Myers hailed the news of the new plant. 

“This is an excellent example of a technology company working in the defense and security space creating jobs in North Carolina," Myers said.

The incentives include a $500,000 One North Carolina Fund grant and local incentives that must at least match that amount. The Department of Commerce also approved a Job Development Investment Grant that is worth some $2 million over 11 years.

"We got a good building, we got a good location, and we anticipated their needs and we addressed them," said Glen Newsome, Person County's economic development director.



Rick Smith, Reporter
Beau Minnick, Reporter
Richard Adkins, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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