Local News

Delay in Opening Armored-Car Plant Causes Concern

Posted March 10, 2008 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated March 10, 2008 10:15 p.m. EDT

— Some observers are doubting the arrival of the South Carolina-based manufacturer of the Cheetah armored car to a region that has lost more than 1,700 jobs in the past five years.

When Force Protection Inc. announced in July its decision to open a plant in Roxboro, it promised at least 270 jobs – welcome news for a community that has an unemployment rate of about 7 percent.

Months after the ribbon-cutting at the abandoned Collins and Aikman automotive textile plant, Force Protection has 21 employees there.

"It gave a lot of people high hopes," said Antonio Paylor, who worked at Collins and Aikman for 35 years and said he is considering applying at Force Protection.

The plant was expected to open in October, and the company had hoped to start production then. That projection was then pushed back to January.
Now, in March, production has not started, and company executives say that to date, no orders have been placed for Cheetahs, armored vehicles designed to counteract roadside bombs and mines.

The plant's delay leaves some who were counting on a job feeling frustrated.

"I thought it was a big company that could supply a lot of people with jobs," said Penny Speed, who applied for a position in the summer. "And it ain't happening."

Dan Busher, Force Protection's executive vice president, blames the delay on renovations – work is still under way on the roof of the building, he said. But when asked about a new timetable for production to begin, he would not give a date.

One analyst, Tom Quillin, managing director of Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, Ark., questions whether the company is on solid financial footing.

Adding to the concerns, two top executives resigned last week. Busher, however, declined to comment on the resignations.

Person County Commissioner Larry Bowes, however, said the company has agreed to start production sometime this year and that the jobs will be there when it does. Force Protection is contracted with the county, state and other local agencies to have at least 270 jobs in place by 2010, he said.