Jupiter Aluminum sees success in Beech Bottom - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Jupiter Aluminum sees success in Beech Bottom

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Photos courtesy of Jupiter Aluminum. Photos courtesy of Jupiter Aluminum.
The production line at the former Wheeling Corrugating plant is moving in Beech Bottom again because of Jupiter Aluminum’s investment. The production line at the former Wheeling Corrugating plant is moving in Beech Bottom again because of Jupiter Aluminum’s investment.
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By Staff Reports

Illinois-based Jupiter Aluminum has the paint line it salvaged from an idled steel corrugating plant in Beech Bottom up and running, creating jobs where a year ago there were none.

It's a bellwether moment for the Brooke County community that's finally seeing economic opportunity after years of decline.

 "It's no longer a ghost town," Beech Bottom Mayor George Lewis said. "What a difference a year can make."

Beech Bottom's rebirth started in November 2012, when Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital partnered with the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle to acquire the former Wheeling Corrugating plant from bankrupt RG Steel.

Hackman's forte is acquiring old industrial sites and selling equipment and materials left behind. The company saw enormous upsides to the corrugating plant but balked at assuming the environmental liability. At the same time, the BDC wanted title to the property so it could be redeveloped and become revenue-generating again. 

Hackman purchased the 650-acre property from bankruptcy and immediately sold it for $200,000 to the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, which assumed the environmental obligations associated with the industrial site. Hackman, meanwhile, retained the rights to the building and equipment.

Together they've marketed the property, inking the warehouse deal with Jupiter along with staging yard deals with three other companies — Sheehan Pipeline, Profoam and Integrity Kokosing. 

"It's evolved more than I ever envisioned," said BDC Executive Director Pat Ford. "I was hopefully optimistic when we bought it; it was the right thing to do to put that plant in local hands. But when you start managing the day-to-day operations of an asset of that nature, you really don't have time to envision what it could be. 

"You get caught up with cleaning it out, providing infrastructure to the site, getting it in position to where you could properly market it."

Ford said there's a lot to be said for the property, which includes about 150 prime acres.While there's currently no barge loading facility, the acreage fronts the Ohio River, so adding docking facilities wouldn't be difficult. It's also centrally located to the Marcellus and Utica shale plays and is within 250 miles of major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada, a fact not lost on companies serving the oil and gas industry.

Jupiter's decision to lease an 111,000 square-foot space for operations, though, was pure luck.

"They were looking to buy a paint line at auction," Ford said, "but they decided to keep the facility here. The stars were aligned for us — it's not like we had a vision for all of this. 

"We bought it at the right time and it was the right place and because of that, one year later we're fortunate to have tenants that collectively have put probably $15 million in investments into the overall site. that's both inside the building and out in our yards."

To date, Ford said they've also created nearly 700 jobs, about 30 of them long-term positions at Jupiter. Sheehan alone hired 600 people, half of them local, for a pipeline project. Though that contract is done, the company extended its lease and is looking for additional opportunities in the Marcellus and Utica regions.

Ford, though, said it's not just about jobs.

"It's also stimulated investment in the residential market and the commercial market," he said. "You can see businesses opening right across the street. And they've done so much from a civic standpoint — from filling the shelves of the food pantry every week to improving the local housing stock for families in need and repairing local churches. 

"Sheehan even bought backpacks for every student in the local elementary school. The spinoff benefits of a successful venture ... we weren't anticipating it, but clearly they've improved the quality of life. Not only has it been great for Beech Bottom, it's been great for Brooke County, and it's really put the Northern Panhandle on the map nationally."

Lewis admits that a year ago, most people in the community feared Hackman intended nothing more than to gut the plant, raze the building "and leave the empty ground sit there."

"So when we found out Hackman was going to let the BDC develop it, it was a breath of fresh air for (us)," he said, adding the Hackman-BDC partnership has been "good for the economy, people here in the village are going back to work."

"Every little bit helps," he said. "We'll take anything we can get."