By Jim Cooper Editor

Spencer is competing with the Parkersburg area for what could eventually become 100 manufacturing jobs.

Mustang Survival, a Canadian-based company that operates a facility in Elizabeth, is looking to expand its operations.

"We have to move swiftly," Greg Stover, the Elizabeth plant manager said.

Stover is a resident of Roane County who once worked in management at the former Goodrich plant in Spencer. He said fluctuations in the exchange rate for Canadian dollars and new restrictions imposed by the U.S. Congress are precipitating the expansion.

Mustang Survival, which also operates facilities in Richmond, British Columbia, and in Bellingham, Wash., is an industry leader in the manufacture of personal flotation devices, survival suits and other life-saving apparel. Its clients include NASA and the military.

Stover said stipulations in the recently passed federal stimulus package would extend existing regulations requiring certain military gear to be American-made to include the Dept. of Homeland Security.

"And that includes the Coast Guard, one of our largest customers," he said.

Stover said the planned expansion would be an extension of the Elizabeth plant, which employs 104 workers. That facility would provide support for the new plant.

The scarcity of available workers in Wirt County prompted the company to expand in another area, Stover added.

Stover said the new jobs would involve sewing everything from personal flotation devices to suits for fighter pilots.

"We have a wide variety of products," he said.

Production jobs will start at $8 an hour with a benefit package that includes health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield as well as life and dental insurance. The cost of the insurance is $4.62 per week for employees.

Stover said 20 jobs would be created immediately, with 20 more added in the near future. He expects steady growth that would lead to 100 jobs within two years.

It will take six months to a year to fully train an employee, Stover said.

Spencer will host a job fair to accept applications on Thursday, April 9 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Heritage Park Community Building.

"We hope we'll have a good turnout from Roane and Calhoun counties so we'll be able to develop a quality workforce for officials from Mustang Survival to see," Mark Whitley, economic development director for Roane and Jackson counties, said. "We're excited to be able to compete for the expansion and we hope people will take advantage of the opportunity."

The Roane Economic Development Authority has offered a section of the former Kellwood plant on Oak Drive rent-free for three years in an effort to attract the expansion. Whitley said the plant's office and cafeteria area would be a possibility, although other local sites, including the former Goodrich building, are also under consideration.

Several sites in the Parkersburg area are also under consideration, including one in Mineral Wells that was toured by company officials. Stover said the Mustang Survival CEO was impressed by the closeness of an interstate highway and amenities including a hotel when he visited the site.

"It definitely made an impression on him," Stover said.

Despite advantages the Parkersburg area might have, Stover said Spencer still had a chance to land the expansion, particularly due to a more stable workforce that is free from most competition. "If Spencer didn't have a real shot we wouldn't be going through the due diligence," he said. "The biggest thing is to confirm the labor pool. Turnout (for the job fair) is key and people being sincere about wanting to work. I'd love to see 200 to 250 people."

With his knowledge of the local workforce, Stover said he is hoping Spencer will be able to land the new jobs.

"That's my preference," he said. "I know the people there."


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