Awards given at Toast of the Town

By Andrew Wigger - awigger@newberryobserver.com
Jim Page and Lee Norris, with Big Gun Robotics, are awarded the Growth Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer. - Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer
DJ Russell, with West Fraser, is awarded the Investment Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer. - Courtesy photo
Councilwoman Harriett Rucker and Kara Cannon at Toast of the Town. - Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer
Michelle Long, Councilman Henry Livingston and Laura Kneece at Toast of the Town. - - Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer

NEWBERRY — During Newberry County’s annual Toast of the Town, an event honoring industry in Newberry County, Rick Farmer, director of Newberry County Economic Development, gave out three inaugural awards to three companies.

The first award was the Investment Award, which was given to West Fraser, a wood products company producing lumber, laminated veneer lumber, medium density fiberboard, plywood, pulp, newsprint, wood chips and energy facilities in western Canada and the southern United States. They employ more than 150 workers in Newberry.

“This company is one of many in our community that revolves around Newberry County’s massive agricultural sector and deals in our top cash crops, Southern Yellow Pine. Our local facility is one of nearly 20 facilities in this company’s Southeastern U.S. portfolio, but our mill right here in Newberry is the most highly capitalized of them all,” Farmer said. “For the last decade this company has been investing to modernize its Newberry operation, but things have really kicked into overdrive in the past several years. In 2014, the company announced a $28 million expansion, and in 2016 it added another $33 million, meaning it has invested more than $60 million right here in Newberry in just the past few years. The most recent expansion allowed the company to increase production by more than 37 percent, and it did all this without cutting any jobs.”

Komatsu, the second largest producer of construction equipment in the world, received the Growth Award during the event.

“Their Newberry operation began in 2017 with about 15 local workers, but it has added more than 30 percent to its workforce since then, and is now at about 220 workers. This company is one of the biggest names in our community, and has been since it opened its Newberry doors back in 2001. They are known far and wide for producing some of the toughest and most modern construction, mining and forestry equipment in the world,” Farmer said. “Sales are up at this company and in a big way. In fiscal year 2017, the company’s global net profits were up 73 percent due to higher sales in all regions. In the most recent quarter, overall sales were up 38.7 percent over the same quarter in 2017.”

The third award during the evening was another Growth Award, given to Big Gun Robotics, a robotic welding company.

“A few years ago this company got really bad news, the employer (at the time) lost a major contract, it looked like the end of the road for this small Newberry factory. The owners crunched some numbers and quickly realized that there was just not enough to sustain the company. So they pulled their 14 remaining employees together and broke the news, the facility was closing,” Farmer said. “But rather than just giving up and moving on to new jobs, two of the company’s employees, both of them just 25 years old, decided to throw caution to the wind and try to reinvest in the company.”

According to Farmer, their efforts paid off, they convinced the owner of the building to work with them on rent, and they got the investments they needed to purchase the machinery and inventory needed for the first few contracts. After a couple of years of struggling, they convinced a larger former customer to bring some of that business back and give them a chance.

“Since then, there has been steady growth at Big Gun Robotics. In 2017, the company more than doubled in size, going from nine employees to 22. They expect to add more jobs in 2018, with the potential to hit over 30 employees before the end of the year,” Farmer said.

Jim Page and Lee Norris, with Big Gun Robotics, are awarded the Growth Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_DSC_0936.jpgJim Page and Lee Norris, with Big Gun Robotics, are awarded the Growth Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer. Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer

DJ Russell, with West Fraser, is awarded the Investment Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_051.jpgDJ Russell, with West Fraser, is awarded the Investment Award from Economic Development Director Rick Farmer. Courtesy photo

Councilwoman Harriett Rucker and Kara Cannon at Toast of the Town.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_DSC_0931.jpgCouncilwoman Harriett Rucker and Kara Cannon at Toast of the Town. Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer

Michelle Long, Councilman Henry Livingston and Laura Kneece at Toast of the Town.
https://www.newberryobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_DSC_0933.jpgMichelle Long, Councilman Henry Livingston and Laura Kneece at Toast of the Town. Andrew Wigger | The Newberry Observer

By Andrew Wigger

awigger@newberryobserver.com

Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.

Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.