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Andrew Corp. May Not Close Plant in Smithfield After All

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Andrew Corp. may not close the satellite communications production facility it operates in Smithfield after all, the company said Tuesday afternoon.

In fact, the company plans to expand its workforce in Johnston County if all aspects of an unfolding deal fall into place. Pending receipt of economic incentives from local governments and the signing of a new lease with the prospective owners of the plant where Andrew now operates, the company said it would add 200 full-time jobs as well as upgrade equipment used in the manufacturing process.

The news was welcomed enthusiastically by Linwood Parker, head of the economic development advisory board for Johnston County.

"We're real encouraged that they are going to stay and make the additional investment," Parker said. "They are a good company to work with."

Whether the economic incentives that Andrew is seeking from Johnston County and Smithfield will be forthcoming is not yet settled, however. Parker said the issue would be discussed at a public hearing in July.

Approximately 450 people now work at the Smithfield plant, including temporary workers, said Rick Aspan, Andrew's director of public relations.

Andrew, which is based in Westchester, IL, took over assets of bankrupt Channel Master in May of 2005 and said the facility would be closed. At one time Channel Master employed 1,600 workers at the facility, making it the largest employer in Johnston County.

The decision to remain in Smithfield is an economic setback for Wayne County, which convinced Andrew late last year to build a new facility there rather than relocate the entire operation to Mexico as Andrew had originally announced. Andrew would have received some $4 million in incentives to build in Wayne County.

Andrew's lease on the massive 750,000-square foot facility in Smithfield expires in December. The company said it had reached an agreement in principle for a new lease with Industrial Realty Group (IRG), which is purchasing the building through the Channel Master bankruptcy.

"This newest twist was rather unexpected because of who bought the property and what their plans for it were," Aspan said. "This presented a great opportunity for us to stay put."

Assuming the firm receives economic development incentives, Andrew said in a statement that it would sign a new lease to use 235,000 square feet of space with the building's new owners. Receipt of local economic assistance "is required" for the facility to remain open, Andrew said in a statement.

When IRG said it would maintain the Smithfield facility for industrial use, Andrew officials decided to remain there and utilize a smaller portion of space, according to Aspan.

"Our plan was to move about 230 jobs to Goldsboro and add another 200 or so new positions," Aspan said. Some 450 people work at the Smithfield facility now, including approximately 170 temporary workers. Some of those temporary positions will be turned into full-time jobs. However, the company will continue to employ some temporary workers in order to deal with fluctuations with market demand, he said. "Two hundred or so full-time jobs will be added over time," Aspan said.

Some 60 salaried people currently work in Smithfield, but 50 of those will be transferred to a new facility in Garner as already planned, Aspan explained.

Jude Panetta, group president of Satellite Communications for Andrew Corporation, said in a statement that the company appreciated the support it had received from Wayne County and Goldsboro.

"Officials from Wayne County, the city of Goldsboro, and Wayne County Economic Development were extremely helpful and supportive during the last several months," Panetta said. "We know that this change in direction is a disappointment to them, but it is welcome news for many others, especially our employees, customers, and the Smithfield community. By staying in the same facility, we are able to make changes that are needed to keep our business competitive without the risks and complexity associated with a relocation of our manufacturing operations."

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