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Company breaks ground on Caterpillar manufacturing plant

By ALLISON MILES
Sept. 23, 2010 at 4:23 a.m.
Updated Sept. 24, 2010 at 4:24 a.m.

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economical Development Corporation, addresses a crowd of about 350 people at the Lone Tree Business Center on Thursday. Caterpillar held its groundbreaking ceremony and will begin construction of a manufacturing plant that will build hydraulic excavators.

Local site in a nutshell:LOCATION: Lone Tree Business Center

MANUFACTURING START DATE: Mid-2012

JOBS: 513

PLANT SIZE: 600,000 square feet

INVESTMENT: $120 million to $150 million

CONTRACTOR: Undetermined

Why did they come here?The path to bringing Caterpillar to Victoria wasn't easy.

Some people hesitated when the idea first emerged to develop an industrial park, said Lewis Neitsch, president of the sales tax board. Victoria had already opened one or two and they hadn't done well, he said.

Even after the park was purchased, skeptics questioned what was happening at the site and whether it was being utilized to its full potential, he said, but the economic development corporation had a plan in the works and continued forward.

And it paid off.

" ... We have Caterpillar coming to Victoria," he said. "I just want to say God bless Caterpillar for picking Victoria and I hope that you all do an illustrious, great business here in Victoria and bring your friends and neighbors with you."

Ten people stood in the muggy heat, shining shovels poised above brown dirt. And, with a count of three and a round of applause, dig. They broke ground at Victoria's Caterpillar site.

About 350 people attended the 10 a.m. event Thursday at the Lone Tree Business Center.

Victoria's site is critical to Caterpillar's global strategy, said Gary Stampanato, vice president of the company's excavation division.

Demand for excavators has never been stronger and the Victoria location is a cost-effective way to turn out products here, rather than import them from Japan, he said.

"So, it gives us a local presence to serve the very important North American market, where we are clearly the leader and want to stay that way," he said.

The plant is still in its planning and design stages. Caterpillar has not yet determined a contractor, said John Jones, who will manage the new site. Production will begin in mid-2012.

It took teamwork to get Caterpillar to choose Victoria, said Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp. Although the development corporation could not divulge much about the client, people were willing to do what they could to further the effort.

"If the VEDC members, if our board of directors, if the city council, commissioners court and other members didn't fully trust us, we could have never had this project that we're calling Caterpillar," Fowler said.

That attitude was the key factor to Caterpillar's decision, Jones said.

The company liked Victoria's infrastructure, access to transportation, downtown revitalization project and emphasis on education, the Illinois resident said, but the "can-do" attitude and willingness to work together most impressed company representatives.

Victoria's site marks the second Caterpillar plant to enter Texas in recent years, but not the last, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said.

"And I can promise you we'll make sure we bring them here several more times because they are a good corporate citizen," he said. "They're somebody to be proud of and I think they will make Victoria very proud for many years to come."

The jobs Caterpillar brings to Victoria are the types of jobs Texas likes to see, said Ken Armbrister, director of legislative affairs for the governor's office. Whereas government jobs tax the economy, private sector positions give back.

The company has had a presence in Texas for years, likely because of the state's business-friendly climate, State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, said. Its presence in Victoria means new jobs and economic growth.

"We all know what this investment in our community means and I believe it will pay dividends for years to come for all of us," she said.

An off-the-cuff joke nearly lost Victoria the project, Mayor Will Armstrong said.

From the start, Caterpillar made it clear the deal was confidential and no one was to know who they were.

Although Armstrong knew the visitors were named John and Karen, he didn't know last names or what they did. When one persistent person continued asking questions, Armstrong said he let go with some sarcasm.

"I said, 'Well, it's John Paul Jones and he's with the Navy,'" he said, grinning at the crowd. "Later, I found out his name was John Jones and I'd almost let the cat out of the bag. But nobody picked up on it."

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