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Legacy industries have fueled Longview’s economy for decades, and they’ll continue to play a key role in the city’s future for years to come.

Long-Term Industries Key To Longview’s Business Success and Development

By Christina Cavazos

In 2023, Longview Economic Development Corporation adopted a new strategic plan to guide the future of the organization. A key component of the new strategic plan is to attract new types of industries to Longview to diversify the city’s economic base.

But legacy industries continue to play a critical role in Longview’s success, and Longview Economic Development Corporation is committed to nurturing those businesses so that they may continue to thrive and expand.

“It’s important that we, as LEDCO, keep that relationship with our existing industries,” said Wayne Mansfield, president and CEO of LEDCO.

The Longview Economic Development Corporation (LEDCO) is one of Texas’ major economic development groups. It manages economic development for the City of Longview. Established in 1991, LEDCO works with businesses that are planning to expand or are considering relocating to Longview. LEDCO provides them with information about available buildings and land, workforce development, and potential incentives to help them as they make decisions about their company.

In 2023, LEDCO adopted a new strategic plan to help guide the organization. The previous strategic plan had been developed for LEDCO in 2016 by a consultant. While the plan had been modified about five years ago, the realm of economic development has experienced significant changes in the last few years. The interaction between consumers and manufacturers or providers has changed.

That change has necessitated a need for economic development corporations, like Longview, to reassess their strategic plan.

LEDCO’s new strategic plan features a focus on new target industries. Those include aerospace aviation, firearms and ammunition, data centers, and semiconductors.

“Looking at the new industries that we will start targeting, especially data centers and semiconductors, that’s a whole different workforce,” Mansfield explained. “We (Longview) haven’t been in that world competitively. It’s hard to compete with Austin or Dallas. They have the built-in skills there, but those markets are becoming saturated, and a lot of these industries are looking at secondary and tertiary markets because of cheaper land, cheaper operation costs, all of the above. I think it’s exciting that we’re moving into that realm. Plus, that’s a young workforce.” While LEDCO is looking to target new types of industry to the area, a pillar of the new strategic plan remains to focus on what LEDCO calls “legacy industries.”

The term “legacy industry” is comprised of the five primary industry sectors that have defined Longview’s economy for decades. Those sectors are chemicals and plastics, food processing, machinery manufacturing, metal and metal products, and transportation, distribution and e-commerce.

Legacy industries contributed to 9.6% of Longview’s job growth since 2017, according to information provided by LEDCO. In 2022, legacy industries accounted for $1.4 billion in gross regional product. In 2023, 66% of LEDCO’s “wins” for the year were expansion projects at existing legacy industries. Those industries form the core focus of LEDCO’s business retention and expansion area.

“Legacy industries are really where business retention and expansion –my world –start,” said Tim Smith, LEDCO’s director of business retention and workforce development. “That’s really nurturing and cultivating a growth opportunity for those companies within the area.”

When an industry chooses to make Longview a site, LEDCO doesn’t just care about that business when it initially starts. LEDCO cares about the company’s present and its future. LEDCO’s team, including Smith, is there to support businesses as they grow, thrive, and look to expand in Longview.

One of Longview’s biggest expansion projects of 2023 occurred when AAON announced it was making a $40 million capital investment into its facility.

AAON, a world leader in the manufacture of premium HVAC equipment, first located in Longview in 1991. The company relocated the manufacturing of its SA Series self-contained unit product to its facility in Longview in 2020.

After continued growth, the company in 2023 announced it would make an investment of $40 million in its Longview site. The expansion project included adding 200,000 square feet of production space with supporting equipment to

their existing facility and the creation of 250 new full-time jobs.

Dallas Plastics also announced plans in 2023 to make a $2.8 million investment into its Longview facility for an expansion project.

After continued growth, AAON in 2023 announced it would make an investment of $40 million in its Longview site. The expansion project included adding 200,000 square feet of production space with supporting equipment to their existing facility and the creation of 250 new full-time jobs.

“AAON is growing rapidly, and expanding operations in Longview provides great momentum for the future of the company and the City of Longview,” said Gary Fields, CEO and President of AAON. “We are thrilled to further build on the strong relationship and partnership with LEDCO. We are eager to see this improvement’s impact, including new jobs and continued community investment.”

Mansfield said it’s a compliment when an existing industry chooses to expand in its community. “LEDCO prides itself on our relationships with our existing industry,” he said. “AAON’s commitment to making new investments into its Longview facility demonstrates the great business climate we offer to business and industry.”

AAON was far from the only legacy industry to announce a major expansion project in 2023. STEMCO, an EnPro company, announced its plans to invest $5 million into its Longview facility to upgrade and expand its production line to meet the growing demands of its customers. To show its support for EnPro’s expansion plans, the LEDCO Board of Directors voted to designate by resolution a Texas Enterprise Zone application by EnPro Industries for the STEMCO expansion project. STEMCO Products, Inc. is a world-class manufacturer of motor vehicle brake systems that has had a Longview location since 1956.

Mansfield explained that LEDCO was proud to nominate EnPro to receive the Enterprise Zonedesignation to assist with its expansion plans at STEMCO.

“STEMCO is a long-standing industrial partner that consistently provides quality jobs in an economically disadvantaged census tract. By supporting this application, Longview will retain 262 existing jobs while adding 10 new full-time job opportunities for our residents,” he said. “EnPro’s additional investment in Longview’s STEMCO facility will ensure continued quality production of their products.”

Hatco is a Longview company that makes Stetson Hats that are worn by everyone from Kevin Costner and the cast of “Yellowstone” to the state’s Texas Rangers. In 2023, Hatco announced a $2.3 million investment into its Longview facility.

Smith explained that Hatco’s investment was mostly aimed at improving quality of life for its employees. The company’s building formerly had no climate control and contained 15 feet of window which sunlight came through, among other poor working conditions. Those conditions had meant the company struggled to retain one shift of workers. The renovation project added air conditioning units to the building, lowered the windows, and allowed for the installation of climate-friendly windows, among other items. Today, Hatco is looking to add a third shift as the working conditions are much more friendly to employees.

“And they still make hats the way they used to make hats,” Smith explained of Hatco’s process. “The technology that’s there, they’re literally having to manufacture parts to keep the machines running because the manufacturers no longer exist. The first machine on their line has a patent date of I think 1894 or so. The machines compact fur into felt. It’s a lot of machines that just keep working the hair into felt. The finer the hair, the finer the felt. They

do anything from rabbit to beaver to mink and several exotic furs. The higher quality hair, the more excess you get in the hat.”

Meanwhile, Dallas Plastics also announced plans in 2023 to make a $2.8 million investment into its Longview facility for an expansion project. Dallas Plastics has been manufacturing blown polyethylene film products in Longview since 1989. The company’s plans include the addition of material storage space as well as adding production equipment to their existing facility and the creation of 19 new full-time jobs.

Ken Colbey, chief financial officer of Dallas Plastics, said the company selected its Longview location for the expansion after “a thorough vetting” of its options. What stood out, he said, was the assistance LEDCO provided.

“We appreciate all of the assistance provided, which made Longview the clear choice for this project for both Dallas Plastics and the

STEMCO, an EnPro company, announced its plans to invest $5 million into its Longview facility to upgrade and expand its production line to meet the growing demands of its customers.

community,” Colbey said. Smith said the business retention and expansion program that he oversees allows LEDCO to identify and assist existing industries when they are looking to make an investment.

“Longview has worked hard to create and maintain a positive business climate to secure the corporate investments necessary to grow our manufacturing base,” Mansfield added.

Those relationships have also proven helpful in difficult times as well.

In 2023, Nucor announced plans to shutter its Longview steel mill. When Mansfield, Smith, and the team at LEDCO learned of Nucor’s plans, they worked to get ahead of the situation.

“What could have been a $20 million loss of wages across their workforce translated into gains for the companies that were struggling to find qualified workers,” Smith said.

Komatsu, STEMCO, Eastman, AAON, Norris Cylinder, and other major industrial facilities picked up those employees. Smith helped facilitate conversations between leaders at those industries and Nucor’s team to help find positions for those displaced workers.

It helped that those workers were highly skilled, highly trained, and highly qualified employees, Smith explained. Many companies today are looking for a workforce that matches the company’s needs.

That’s another area where LEDCO strives to excel. Within the business retention and expansion realm, Smith is constantly in communication with local industry leaders to inquire about skills they need in their workforce. He then tries to facilitate conversations with area colleges and area high schools that have Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. A couple of years ago, LEDCO hosted an industry education forum in which they asked industry leaders what they needed. Leaders were candid, Smith said. Dr. Brenda Kays, president of Kilgore College, attended the forum, but she didn’t just listen to the local industry leaders. She went back to Kilgore College and put a plan into action to address those needs by creating a course.

“She took equipment from the old East Texas Advanced Manufacturing Academy and put it to better purpose,” Smith said.

Many of the local industries utilize automated equipment. For example, at the Gap warehouse, there is a pick and pull apparatus on the conveyor belts that tells items where to go based on a barcode.

“But you have to have people who know how to operate and how to maintain that equipment,” Smith said.

The course Kays has developed will help address that need. Mansfield explained the course would ordinarily be a two-year certificate program, but Kilgore College has condensed it into a 16-month program.

“It was really impressive to see just the partnership with the industry and with Kilgore College,” Mansfield said.

LEDCO has also been working with LeTourneau University to develop another program. In 2023, LEDCO announced it would provide $350,000 in funding to help with development of a robotics training center at LeTourneau University.

The Yaskawa Robotics Training Center at LeTourneau University will aim to provide training programs focused on industrial-use robots, thereby contributing to the development of highly skilled professionals in the robotics field. Initially, the center will be located on the university campus and will eventually expand into a building owned by the university on Mobberly Avenue.

“This will be a one-of-a-kind facility. Nowhere else in the state of Texas will have that type of facility. Companies from all over the country will send their workers to be certified on robotics equipment here,” Mansfield said. “Automation is becoming more widespread, but even though it’s automated, you still have to have somebody operating it, troubleshooting it, and maintaining it. So that training is going to be necessary.”

That’s been one of LEDCO’s goals. Not only does LEDCO focus on recruiting new industries, but it also works to maintain its legacy industries and help them expand. A key component of that is being able to meet their needs–especially their workforce needs.

“That’s been one of the things that I think LEDCO has been very successful in championing is getting those types of innovation in the marketplace to allow for businesses to grow and grow their own workforce,” Smith said. “The goal is not just to recruit new workers, but to retrain and repurpose some of the people that they’ve currently got. So now we’ve got the tools to be able to retrain those folks and retain them in their current employment.”

From industries that use advanced robotics in their process to companies like Hatco that still use machinery that’s a century old, LEDCO strives to maintain its relationships with all of the existing businesses so that they may continue to thrive.

“It’s impressive what’s built here,” Smith said. “The whole retention program is designed around keeping those industries here and helping them flourish and grow.”

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