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Victoria cheers Caterpillar's opening (video)

By ALLISON MILES
Aug. 23, 2012 at 3:23 a.m.
Updated Aug. 24, 2012 at 3:24 a.m.


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Big wigs in town

Gov. Rick Perry wasn't the only politician who celebrated Caterpillar's new beginning Thursday in Victoria.

State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, said she attended to support the company and the hard work so many people put into bringing the plant to the Crossroads.

The new plant is a win/win, she said. The company benefits from Victoria's location and transportation options, she explained, while Caterpillar benefits the community.

"I think this is just the beginning of all the wonderful things coming," she said. "I'm so proud of what's come here."

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, called the grand opening event a step forward for the community.

"It's a great story to tell in Washington about how we're doing things right in Texas," he said. This is a beautiful, world-class manufacturing facility and it's great to have it here."

State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said Victoria's plant was a good example that manufacturing isn't necessarily going overseas, as many people think.

"This has been a project a lot of people have been watching for a long time," he said. "It proves that it can be done."

Commemorating the event

John Jones, facility manager for Victoria's Caterpillar hydraulic excavator plant, presented a $25,000 check to Victoria County United Way on Thursday.

Caterpillar wants to support the community, he said, noting it has already begun working with about 30 entities throughout the region.

Thursday's donation was a way to commemorate the grand opening, Jones said.

Their paths first crossed in late 2009 - Caterpillar, looking for a new home, and Victoria, willing to see whether it was the right fit.

In the courtship that followed came closed-door discussions, economic incentives and, in August 2010, an announcement to the world of their pending marriage.

And Thursday, more than two years after it all began, the two came together as one.

About 550 people, ranging from community leaders to politicians and company personnel, filled inside the Victoria plant for a grand opening celebration.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was among the guests, congratulated Caterpillar on selecting the right location.

He said the Texas work ethic and suitable business formula - consisting of low taxes, a fair and predictable regulatory climate, minimal red tape and a return on one's investment - are key to catching the attention of such companies.

The state used the Texas Enterprise Fund to help seal the Caterpillar deal in 2010, Perry said, noting that, throughout the fund's life, about $470 million in Texas taxpayer dollars have gone to close deals statewide. That means about $22.3 billion in capital investments, he said, and a projected 63,000 new jobs.

Caterpillar has a long future in Victoria, he said, and will influence both the community and its families in a powerful, positive way.

"I wish Caterpillar and Victoria, everyone associated with this new beginning, the greatest of success," he said. "And we will conclude this with saying God bless Texas."

It took 106,000 yards of concrete, 16,000 gallons of paint and just about a year to construct Victoria's Caterpillar hydraulic excavator plant, Facility Manager John Jones said.

Jones said he was proud of his company's new home and looked forward to ramping up in the days ahead.

A myriad of things went into the search for the perfect location, he said, but one of the deciding factors was the people.

"It's the foundation of everything you do," he said. "It truly is one of the things in this community that drew us here. We're all very honored to be here."

Victoria's plant will triple Caterpillar's current production in North America, said Gary Stampanato, vice president of the company's excavation division. Once fully operational, it will produce a line of excavators that range from 12 tons to 49 tons.

Still, he said, one thing had him worried.

"I looked at the list of where the first 20 machines have headed, and I'm getting the impression that Holt thinks this is their facility," he said with a laugh. "We'll get this sorted out as we go forward."

HOLT CAT, a Caterpillar dealer, has a regional office in San Antonio. It serves 118 counties, including Victoria.

Texas is an important state for Caterpillar and has been for years, said Doug Oberhelman, the company's chairman and CEO. The addition of Victoria's location will put the company in a position to take over and lead the business worldwide.

Caterpillar's excavator production was based in Japan since the early 1990s, he explained, but growth and expansion made a presence in the United States necessary.

Although Oberhelman called himself a big believer in United States manufacturing, he said companies still need help from the government and individuals to keep the market competitive.

"We can do this," he said. "And this is a great witness testimony thereof."

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said Caterpillar's impacts are already evident through indicators such as job creation, home and retail sales. It took work to encourage the company to call the Crossroads home, he explained, but it was worth it.

"We had to sell ourselves, and we did, because we were already sold on Caterpillar," Pozzi said, noting Victoria's infrastructure, workforce, educational systems and more appealed to the company. "And we did a helluva job. Because they're here."

While guests set off on foot tours of the facility, Caterpillar executives gathered outside for a presentation beneath two yellow excavators.

Alan Roberts, of Pumpco Inc., received a ceremonial key and miniature excavator in recognition for purchasing Victoria's first 336E excavator.

Roberts said he received the machine about a month ago, and it's hard at work just south of San Antonio.

Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp., was there during the initial talks with Caterpillar and, as he stood inside the completed plant, said it was gratifying to see a plan come together.

Purchasing the industrial park years ago, developing it and marketing it to potential businesses was part of an overarching strategy that eventually led to success.

"Community leadership 10 years ago was planning for today," he said. "Today was no accident."

Victoria Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Vivian agreed that Thursday was a major milestone.

"Any time a facility of this magnitude from a company of this stellar a reputation opens up in your town, it's a great, great day," he said.

With more than a million square feet under roof, the local plant is big, Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong said. Still, it's the little things - like Jones addressing the crowd with the word "y'all" - that make a difference.

Armstrong said his work with the company has taught him a thing or two.

"What I've recently learned is that you don't ask somebody from out of town if they have a Caterpillar plant," he said. "If they do, they'll tell you. But if they don't, you don't want to embarrass them."

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