Manufacturer plans $23M investment, 100 new jobs

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

LIBERTY — Pickens County officials are celebrating the expansion of a company that was “bursting at the seams” at its current facility. [cointent_lockedcontent]

Pickens County Council announced the expansion of Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. Inc. in the Pickens County Commerce Park after a special called meeting Thursday.

“This is truly an outstanding day in the history of Reliable,” company president Kevin T. Fee said.

The new development is expected to bring $23.1 million in capital investment and lead to the creation of 100 jobs for the company, which manufactures automatic fire sprinklers and is a major distributor of sprinkler system components.

“Today we are thrilled to be celebrating the expansion of Reliable,” County council chair Jennifer Willis said.

The expansion announcement came exactly 12 years and one day after officials held a groundbreaking for Reliable Sprinkler’s existing facility, she said.

“In the late 1990s, Pickens County Council took steps to acquire land and created the commerce park that we’re in today,” she said.

She recalled attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony in late 2003 for the Cartee Road exchange that opened access to the facility off of U.S. Highway 123.

“At that time, we had the infrastructure in place,” Willis continued. “We had roads, we had land, but we had nothing else. But, to borrow a line from the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

At the time of its groundbreaking in 2004, Reliable officials designed a facility “they could not imagine filling up,” Willis said.

Fast forward 12 years, and “Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. is completely out of space and still growing,” she said.

In 2004, the company projected a $20 million investment, a 300,000-square-foot building and approximately 180 jobs, “which they have well exceeded multiple times over,” Willis said.

Willis said the work between company officials, county officials and Alliance Pickens that led to the expansion announcement began about two and a half years ago.

“We are like the ducks you see out on the pond,” she said. “You don’t think we’re moving — and we’re frantically paddling underneath. We have been frantically paddling underneath the water for a long time to get this job put to bed. We’ve got lots of exciting things coming in the next few months.”

Before the announcement, county council approved ordinances that will help make the expansion possible, including a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement and a land grant for Reliable.

“Instead of being taxed at the standard 10.5 percent rate, they pay a flat fee which is equivocal to approximately six percent,” Willis said. “It’s a fee instead of a tax. Whatever that number is, that number is set for the next 20 years.”

The agreement is “the same incentive that we give every company that’s located here in the park,” Willis said. “It just covers that additional investment and gives them that reduced tax burden. It’s an incentive for them to bring money here and bring jobs here.”

County council also gifted the company an additional 22-acre parcel “to allow them to do everything they need to do to expand,” Willis said.

“They are basically landlocked,” she said. “They have a great problem — and a tremendous opportunity for us. They are bursting at the seams.”

The land grant “guarantees the future growth of our company,” Fee said.

“There’s no doubt that without this land grant, we would have run out of space and would have had to move,” he said.

Reliable will expand its existing plant by 150,000 square feet to bring the total facility space to 452,000 square feet. The expanded facility should be up and running by July of 2017, Fee said.

Senior vice president Bill Kirkpatrick walked officials through the plans for the expansion.

The expansion will help address congestion on Smith Grove Road, especially during shift changes at Reliable.

“We want to minimize the time it takes to pass the baton to other shifts,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s time lost and money.”

The company now has the land needed to handle future expansions of their facilities.

“We have plans to go further,” Kirkpatrick said.

Willis thanked Ray Farley and his Alliance Pickens staff for the work they put in toward getting the deal done.

Farley said Reliable’s decision to expand says a lot about Pickens County.

“World-class company, number two in the world, and this is the only place that they manufacture, and they serve a worldwide marketplace,” Farley said. “This is the only manufacturing location they have —they rely on it. The fact that they’re investing the kind of money they’re investing here speaks volumes for our school system, the manner by which we train and educate a learned workforce to supply them.

“I think it speaks volumes in the trust they put in the Pickens County Council. And now that they’re here, they continue to invest here. I just think it speaks volumes for the Pickens County community.”

Fee said the decision to move its operation from Mount Vernon, N.Y., to Liberty was “the greatest and most important decision” in the company’s nearly 100-year history.

“Everybody said, ‘This is going to be your home forever,’” Fee said. “It’s been a very rewarding experience.”

Three-quarters of the company’s employees live in Pickens County, Farley said.

Fee said the company’s facilities and its employees give the company “the greatest home-field advantage.”

“We do have great people,” he said. “They’re the most important asset we have, and we’re always going to take care of them.

Fee said the best year of the company and its market are “ahead of us, not behind us,” adding that he hopes to shatter the job numbers and figures announced with the expansion.

He urged Farley and county officials to use him and his company as references as they court future investment in the commerce park and the county.

“At any time that you need to call upon us as a reference or to show potential investors Pickens County in any way, shape or form, please call upon us,” Fee said. “We’re there for you. We are strong believers in Pickens County.” [/cointent_lockedcontent]