- Associated Press - Friday, September 30, 2016

SENATOBIA, Miss. (AP) - Swiss firm ABB said Friday that it hopes to increase employment at its Tate County plant from 89 workers now to as many as 500 in five years. That’s 200 more employees than the company had previously announced.

The company hosted Gov. Phil Bryant and others at a grand opening Friday. ABB has been making circuit breakers and control panels at the plant since April, after announcing in December that it would take over a building that had belonged to failed solar operator Twin Creeks Technologies.

Franklin Sullivan, who leads ABB’s electrical components business in North America, said the Senatobia plant is a key part of its plan to produce more of ABB’s range of electrical components in the United States for American customers. He said that decision is motivated by different electrical standards here, as well as the difficulty of serving customers from plants in Germany or Italy.

“You can imagine how having that long a supply chain affects your ability to serve customers,” he told The Associated Press.

Sullivan said the company wanted a site close to Memphis, Tennessee, which is now the headquarters of its electrical business after the company bought Thomas & Betts in 2012 for $3.9 billion. He said being close to executives and ABB’s distribution center in Byhalia will help the plant.

ABB is making circuit breakers and control boards for uses such as computer data centers, solar panel controls, hospitals and stadiums at the Senatobia plant. Sullivan said demand is growing rapidly for the components. The company is employing both engineers and production workers at the plant. Sullivan wouldn’t discuss specific amounts when asked about wages, but described them as “very competitive.”

The 39-acre site has room to expand the 85,000 square-foot facility by up to 400,000 feet. The company plans to begin making more products within a year and add an automated assembly line to make circuit breakers in two to three years.

ABB’s arrival allows Senatobia to resume making payments to the Mississippi Development Authority on $18 million it borrowed to build the structure. Mississippi lost $27.7 million to Twin Creeks, recouping only $1.25 million, in one of a series of troubled alternative energy investments made by the state under Gov. Haley Barbour. The state had been seeking a new user for the building since Twin Creeks collapsed. Sullivan said Senatobia was a little farther from Memphis than ABB had originally intended, but said the building helped change the company’s mind.

“This was just a great opportunity,” Sullivan said, “a terrific facility - brand new, unused.”

ABB initially invested $7 million in equipment and is leasing the building. The company has about 1,000 employees overall in Mississippi, and hundreds more in Memphis and Jonesboro, Arkansas.

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