April 12, 2009

Inverness-Based Boatright to Make Railroad Crossties in Carbon Hill, Alabama

Inverness-based Boatright Cos. will invest up to $25 million in a plant in Carbon Hill to produce railroad crossties.

Shane Boatright, chief executive of the company bearing his name, said he zeroed in on the Walker County coal-mining town because his company needed a good location with rail services and Carbon Hill needs more jobs. The project will create as many as 40 jobs initially.

"That community could use a real shot in the arm," Boatright said. "They're just a fine group of people who are needing some help from an economic development standpoint."

His company operates a number of railroad-related subsidiaries, including Boatright Railroad Products, which makes crossties for mainline and shortline railroads.

The crosstie operation is based in Wilton near Montevallo in Shelby County. The new Carbon Hill facility will be similar factory.

"As a corporation, we want to go into a community and leave a giant, but a gentle giant kind of footprint," Boatright said. "We can help the community create jobs, and in this particular business, it creates more jobs than just we employ. It has a very positive rippling effect there and on the surrounding community."

That ripple effect could reach some businesses currently idled, Boatright said.

"There will be a lot of sawmills in and around that area that will be able to turn their machines back on and start employing people," he predicted. "It's a win-win for Carbon Hill and the surrounding area."

That's welcome news for Carbon Hill Mayor Chris Hart who said his town is in dire need of new jobs.

"We haven't had any industry here in town since I believe 1993," Hart said. "The last industry we had here was the garment factory and all of that moved overseas."

Hart said he is anticipating the ripple effect.

"I talked with the Boatrights and I've talked with the local lumber mill here," he said. "We're going to have truck drivers in and out. I work for the railroad and we're going to have the railroad servicing them also, so it's going to be good all the way around."

Boatright will operate in a 500,000-square-foot steel and concrete facility once used by coal miner Drummond Co. but shuttered for nearly 18 years. Boatright is assembling adjacent property to give the company a 30-acre site suitable for the crosstie operation.

A railroad line runs by the property and plans are to create a spur running into the plant, Boatright said. The operation also will be a couple of miles from Corridor X - the future Interstate 22 connecting Memphis and Birmingham - enhancing transporting products by truck.

Boatright said there will be lots of activity at the plant this year as it moves products and equipment into position and prepares the facility for operation.

But the actual ramping up of the plant is closer to a year away, according to Steve Bookout, chief financial officer at Boatright.

"We would hope to be spitting out a tie the end of this year, but in all probability it will be early next year," he said.

For Mayor Hart, he's happy to know jobs are on the way, even if it takes a few months to get there.

"That's the main thing is having employment for the local people," he said. "I hope everybody is satisfied and know that things are changing."

Like the Shelby County operation, the Carbon Hill facility will be fueled using biomass boilers.

But fueling the expansion is Boatright's passion for his industry and the right opportunity on a track leading to Carbon Hill. "The mayor himself is a railroad man, so that didn't hurt," Boatright said.

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