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Audie Keeton, chief executive officer of J. Skinner Bakery, made it clear Monday night that bigger and better things are in store for the Paris facility his Omaha-based company purchased a year ago.
The Paris City Council voted unanimously to ratify the Paris Economic Development Corporation’s cash incentive offer — approved by the PEDC earlier in the day — of $1.2 million to the company in exchange for the company’s plan to invest $25 million and create 393 jobs over the next five years.
That doesn’t even start to describe the plans that Skinner Baking has for Paris, Keeton told the council.
“I will tell you two things: 393 employees five years from now would be a failure on our part, and I will also tell you that $25 million investment in that facility would be a failure on our part,” Keeton said.
The former Sara Lee plant in Paris that Skinner purchased a year ago from will figure prominently in Skinner Baking’s operations, Keeton said.
Steve Gilbert, executive director of the PEDC, introduced Keeton, who he said had an announcement he wanted to make.
Keeton told the council he met in Paris earlier Monday with officials from Harrison Walker & Harper, “and I think there’s no better place to announce this than right here:
“We are beginning a 24-to-36 month plan to put in what will be the largest distribution center freezer, right here, on our site, and we’re very excited about that.”
Four companies from Omaha will be working with Skinner in conjunction with the distribution center freezer, Keeton said.
“And we’ll have to give credit to the governor of Texas and what he has accomplished in this state, that’s been really amazing, with the Port of Galveston and what’s happened with the Panama Canal, and the ability to ship internationally,” Keeton said.
“We’re very excited about those opportunities and what that entails,” Keeton said.
He also announced that Skinner will be launching a branding campaign in Texas in which “we’re really going to talk about Paris itself.
“All the major grocery stores within our state of Texas are going to carry the Skinner-branded product, and it’s really a Texas kind of feel to the product,” Keeton said.
“What we’re taking advantage of here is we’re really going to talk about Paris,” Keeton said. On the back of the new butter croissant line of products to be manufactured in Paris, he said, “We are going to tell the history of how this happened and how we came to Paris.”
Keeton went on: “We’re doggone proud to be here. I can’t tell you how happy we are to be part of this community and this city as we move forward.”
The incentive package that was approved by the PEDC and ratified by the council calls for 135 jobs in 2013, 199 more in 2014 and 39 more in 2015 for a total of 393.
“We have employed fulltime 126 people at the Paris facility as of today. We have plans fairly early, beginning the second quarter of next year, to take that number up another 168 people, and there’s some exciting things that are happening down there,” Keeton said.
As reimbursement for training of new employees, the PEDC will give Skinner $500 for each new job created — $67,500 in 2013, 499,500 in 20143 and $29,500 ;in 2015 — for a total of $196,500.
Additionally, the PEDC will give Skinner a job creation payout of $2,500 per new job created — $337,500 in 2014, $497,500 in 2015 and $147,500 in 2016, for a total of $982,500 more. That will be payable each year after Jan. 1 with approved documentation.
All told, that’s a cash incentive of $1,179,000.
Skinner purchased the former Sara Lee facility for $5.6 million late last year. The company told the PEDC it would follow that with an investment of $19.4 million over the next five years — $4.6 million in $2013, $3.2 million in 2014, $6.6 million in 2015, 43.5 million in 2016, and $2.5 million in 2017.
But, as Keeton said, Skinner’s plans for the Paris facility continue to grow.
“I had no idea, coming from Nebraska, what opportunities there were in Texas until I got here. Not only is it the leadership in the community but the people that are involved in the community,” Keeton told the city council Monday night.
He said two “of my best salesmen” have now come from Texas — Gene Stallings and Gov. Rick Perry.
“I can’t say enough about Gene Stallings and what an asset he is to our city (Paris), and how much he’s gotten involved with Skinner Baking,” Keeton said.
“One of our large companies that we’re trying to bring back to the paris plant, he (Stallings) has been involved in that process and I can’t thank him enough,” the Skinner CEO said.
“And then Governor Perry’s support, in reaching out to those large companies that we’re restoring and putting back into that plant. It’s just been an overwhelming and tremendous amount of support. I can’t thank everybody enough for that.”
It was almost a year ago, Dec. 20, 2012, that Skinner officials invited city officials and other Paris residents to the former Sara Lee facility to announce the acquisition by James Skinner Baking.
“We had been looking for a facility for nearly three years, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to take just one minute to rehash a little bit of history,” he said.
“We had visited Philadelphia, we had visited Spartanburg, S.C., we had looked at Omaha expansion, and we had looked at a number of things because we were out of capacity in Omaha,” he said.
“And I got a call one day from a used equipment salesman who was going to parcel out the Sara Lee facility in Paris and sell it. He informed me that there was an auction that was going to take place four weeks from the day I received that phone call and an email from him.
“I actually looked at the email about three and a half weeks later, and I realized I didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we got on a plane and came down here to Paris,” he added.
Five hours later, he said, “we found ourselves purchasing a plant.”
Skinner’s vice president of finance was on his honeymoon in Hawaii, “and it was kind of a shock to him.”
“But the reason I tell this story is what happened next, which was kind of a defining moment. Some folks from your town came to visit with us, and I was fortunate enough to meet several members within the community, who saqt there late into the evening, and they wanted to be a part of Skinner Baking and what we were trying to accomplish.”
What has made the last year “really exciting” is the commitment the Paris community has given to Skinner, Keeton said.
“I come to work every day, and it used to be our goal to be the next Sara Lee, and people kind of laughed about that, little Skinner Baking in Omaha, Neb., a converted car wash that turned into a bakery. But $140 million later, they’re not laughing any more,” Keeton said.
The company’s goal not too long ago was to be a $500 million company. Now, the goal is to be a 1,000-family company, he said.
“When you have a week to close on the plant and your bank of 19 years tells you they’re not going to support you in your acquisition because it’s in Paris, Texas and not in Philadelphia,” he said.
“And then you come down (to Paris) and you meet with the local bankers and they pull this together, and the EDC and the mayor come together to support you in this acquisition. It’s overwhelming, to be honest with you. So I have this appreciation and faithfulness for this community.”
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra