Months after Baxter International’s big announcement to locate a $1 billion manufacturing plant in Stanton Springs industrial park, Newton County is starting to see some positive effects.
SteelCo recently received around a $500,000 contract to build two metal canteen buildings on the Baxter site as construction gets ready to ramp up, while chamber President Hunter Hall said the first Baxter relocation employee to the area just bought a house in Oxford.
SteelCo owner Shane Millwood said he believes SteelCo is the first local construction company to get work at Baxter, and the company is planning to build two 8,000 square foot metal shells, which will serve as the lunch and break facilities for the hundreds of workers expected to descend on the huge construction site this year.
Baxter spokeswoman Jennifer Gremmels said there were around 60 people working on site as of last week, but that number is expected to eventually peak at 2,200, according to a press release from Fluor Construction, the global firm that landed the Baxter construction contract.
Millwood said SteelCo got the job because one of the project’s subcontractors, Lawrenceville-based Satellite Shelters, knew SteelCo’s work and wanted to hire a local company.
“Very rarely does a giant corporation come to town and locals get to work, so we’re very enthusiastic that we have a part of the job. Hopefully, it’ll lead into more exciting ventures with them,” Millwood said.
SteelCo hopes to start construction either tomorrow or next week and be working on the buildings for about two months.
“Even though I’m not on the chamber board anymore, it’s hard for me to take that economic development hat off, I think it’s huge for the community that locals are working on these projects,” Millwood said.
SteelCo will be using its other local subcontractors as well, said Brooke McClure, the company’s receptionist.
While the work being done is SteelCo’s bread and butter, McClure said SteelCo was seeing a lot more paperwork than normal, including stricter safety regulations. The increased regulations likely stem from Baxter’s regulatory requirements, as, once its main buildings are constructed, the pharmaceutical company has to pass an intense two-year inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it can begin commercial production.
Other work available
While no one spoken to for this article knew of any local companies that had yet secured work, multiple local companies are bidding to get contracts. Hall, president at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said Great Estates Landscaping had bid on landscaping services, while Wagner Service Solutions was pursuing a janitorial contract for the construction phase.
Jeff Wagner, owner of Wagner Service, said the company was also talking to Baxter representatives about the contract for vending services — the canteens being built by SteelCo will need drink, snack and coffee machines, Wagner said. He also hopes to pursue future staffing, uniformed security and janitorial contracts.
Hall said the chamber is talking to Fluor at least once a week about work that is available and trying to put them in touch with local companies.
The company that got the security job, for example, isn’t local, but they are hiring local veterans to fill the jobs.
Employees on the move
A Baxter family that is relocating was touring around town Thursday, being escorted by Hall and Roger Harrison, senior vice president of economic development for the chamber’s Office of Economic Development. The family made sure to make a stop at the Mystic Grill building on the square, because the daughter is a huge fan of “The Vampire Diaries’ TV show; the family is planning to take a paid tour of filming sites with a local company Mystic Falls Tours as well, Hall said.
The chamber’s tours are part of the efforts to attract Baxter employees and executives to locate to Covington. Spokeswoman Gremmels said Baxter has hired around 50 employees to date; these are actual Baxter employees, not contracted employees.
In their relocation package, Baxter employees fill out a survey that lists their position, where they’re moving from, hobbies and things they’ll need help with. This particular family, from Missouri, was interested in a particular denomination, so the chamber set up lunch with the youth pastor of a local church and all of them ate at Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston’s house to talk with the mayor about why he and his wife made the move to Newton County.
The tour also included area subdivisions and the Porterdale Mill; Hall said the family said the chamber-dubbed “red carpet” tour was incredibly helpful.
If that employee was to commit to Newton County, he would be the second to do so, as Hall said a Baxter relocating employee, this one from Australia, just recently purchased a home in Oxford. The man’s already been spending money in Newton County, as Hall said he’s been shopping locally, buying a TV from Walmart.