By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A new $100 million plant will mean 1,000 new jobs within five years.
About 100 have been hired at the new Olin/Winchester Centerfire ammunition plant, and another 100 are expected be hired by the end of the year.
State, local and corporate officials dedicated the plant in the Lafayette County Industrial Park on Wednesday. The plant adjoins the company’s Rimfire and Military Packing operations, which relocated to Lafayette County in 2005 and together employ some 300 area residents.
“One reason we chose Oxford and this region is the level of available talent and skilled labor,” said Thomas O’Keefe, president of Winchester Ammunition.
Christie Knapp, executive vice president of the Economic Development Foundation, said it was natural for Winchester to expand its operations in Lafayette County.
“The Rimfire Division was already here, so we didn’t have the traditional challenges of trying to sell them on the Oxford community and Mississippi,” she said. “They already had an experience here, and it was a very good one.”
Joseph Rupp, who is chairman, president and CEO of Olin Corporation, Winchester’s parent company, said the new 500,000-square-foot plant will represent 1,000 new jobs with an annual payroll of $36 million when it reaches full production in 2016, with the prospect of attracting supporting businesses that will also create new employment. Entry-level jobs start at about $13.50 per hour, with skilled positions reaching $25 or more.
“Our plant represents a $100 million investment,” Rupp said. “We believe it will lead to much more investment in this area.”
Gov. Haley Barbour said Winchester’s three operations will eventually provide “1,350 jobs – and good-paying jobs, which is what we’ve been concentrating on for eight years now.”
Although the state-of-the-art facility opened less than a year after the company announced it would relocate from Alton, Ill., Barbour began courting the second Winchester operation years earlier.
“The word we kind of chuckled about was the great patience he demonstrated,” Rupp said. “Olin is a major corporation, and sometimes we zig and sometimes we zag, but he never took his eye off the goal.”
Even as a decision neared, it depended on a vote by Olin’s union.
“This was one of the more complicated things I’ve done as governor,” Barbour said. When the union voted to reject contract concessions, he added, “I’ll confess I had a drink that night.”
Ironically, a technicality forced a second vote after Mississippians had already begun celebrating, but the union rejected the offer again.
Barbour said Mississippians are typically loyal to companies with a local presence, as in Nissan’s first year in the state, when Mississippi residents bought the brand at twice its national sales rate.
“Unlike some places where it’s labor versus management, here we’re one team. The people … will be proud to get to work for Winchester, a true American legend,” he said. “Aren’t you glad to get somebody who follows the great Southern and Mississippi traditions of guns and ammunition?”
A host of people and entities made the Winchester opening possible, Barbour said, including the state Legislature, TVA, Three Rivers Planning and Development District, Northwest Mississippi Community College and the University of Mississippi. Most especially he congratulated local officials and residents for the prevailing business climate and quality of life.
“At the end of the day, while (industries are) looking for reliable, rational regulation in a state and a business community, they don’t pick a state – they pick a community,” Barbour said. “They didn’t pick Mississippi; they picked Oxford.”
Winchester’s human resources director, Valerie Peters, said the company still offers many opportunities for prospective employees with a variety of skill levels. All positions are posted on www.olin.com, and the listings change frequently.