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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, December 19, 2017 1:00 am

Lippert's New Haven plan shifts

Buying ex-Nestle plant instead of building new site

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Officials at Lippert Components Manufacturing Inc. have had a change of mind that is leading to a change in venue.

The Elkhart company this year had said it would invest $19.1 million to build a new 380,000-square-foot industrial plant at Ryan and Edgerton roads in New Haven.

But now the company will make a smaller investment instead in the bigger former Nestle plant at 2909 Pleasant Center Road in southern Allen County, said Elissa McGauley, Allen County director of redevelopment.

The news is contained in documents seeking a tax break filed with the Allen County Council. The council is scheduled to consider the request at its meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Lippert, which makes seating for marine and recreational vehicles, said it is investing $10.87 million in the former Nestle site – $2 million in improvements to the real estate, including a 764,177-square-foot building, and $8.8 million in new equipment.

That is about $8.2 million less than the company said it would spend on building from scratch at the New Haven site. But the building is about twice as large and the equipment expenditure $5 million more.

Neither New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald nor Brian Yoh, New Haven's director of planning and economic development, could be reached Monday for comment on the impact of the company's change of plans.

New Haven stands to lose about $2.4 million in taxes, as well as what had been a confirmed use for a sizable piece of vacant industrial real estate.  

Lippert's new application says the company plans to create 135 jobs for production workers and sewing machine operators at the new site. Those jobs carry $4.2 million in annual salaries averaging $31,200 each, the application says.

After six months, workers receive vacation and holidays as well as life, health, dental and vision insurance. At least 70 percent of those benefits will be paid by the company.

Lippert has a facility on Nelson Road in New Haven and previously planned to close that plant and absorb its approximately 185 workers into the new plant on Ryan Road.

The company also employs about 30 people at a plant in Auburn.  Lippert officials previously announced work there, as well as an undetermined number of workers, would go to Ryan Road.

It could not be determined Monday what the new plan holds for employees. Calls to Lippert's local corporate offices went unanswered.

According to its application, Lippert qualifies for a five-year phase-in of real estate tax that would save the company $113,160 and a 10-year business personal property tax phase-in on equipment that would save $350,380. That amounts to about $1.93 million less in total savings than under its original plan.

According to the application, the new equipment includes roto-mold machines, sewing machines and fabric cutters. The company expects to purchase the equipment beginning this month and install it through the end of 2019. The additional jobs would be filled by the end of 2020.

Lippert's application says its sales have held steady at between $1.2 and $1.6 billion during each of the last three years.

The company qualified for a 10-year tax abatement by earning additional points in the county's scoring system. Lippert agreed to contribute 5 percent of its tax savings to a county fund to benefit future economic development efforts. 

rsalter@jg.net