Economic development officials see the growth of the workforce at the former Sony plant near New Stanton as proof that U.S. manufacturing companies can succeed.
Aquion Energy Inc., a Pittsburgh-based start-up company, expects to begin production by fall of an innovative sodium-battery to store energy. And DNP, a manufacturer of bar code credit card ribbon strips, recently said it will invest $10 million to build a second production line and increase its 150-employee workforce.
"We're all anxious for Aquion to get started," said Jason Rigone, director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. He said Aquion hopes to have 200 employees working at the site by the end of the year.
"And DNP's announcement is proof that American workers can compete with Asia," Mr. Rigone said.
DNP is the U.S. subsidiary of Dai Nippon Printing Co. of Japan. Mr. Rigone said DNP had competed against its Asian sister company for the expansion by the parent company.
"So that's very important," he said of the local expansion. "That means we can compete with Asia for these jobs."
Mr. Rigone said the company produces spools of the thermo-transfer ribbon strips used on the back of credit cards. It operates three shifts a day.
The company will add 26,000 square feet of production space, for a total of 161,000 square feet at the New Stanton site.
"They are making a 10-year commitment, as well," he said.
"Aquion is doing their buildout now, putting up separating walls and installing equipment," Mr. Rigone said.
Aquion is leasing about 150,000 square feet initially, with room to expand to 500,000 square feet.
The 2.8 million-square-foot Sony building is being re-purposed as a multi-tenant facility.
"The major project is replacement of the old roof," Mr. Rigone said. "Tenants don't want water dripping onto their electronic equipment."
The building, which has a flat roof, was constructed by Chrysler in 1967, he said. Volkswagen, a German company, manufactured cars there during the 1970s and Sony, a Japanese company, built TVs there from 1987 to 2010.
"At about 1.5 million square feet, and $10 a square foot, it would cost about $15 million to replace the entire roof," he said, so it's being done in pieces.
The former Sony site is now called RIDC-Westmoreland. The Regional Industrial Development Corp., a nonprofit agency based in Pittsburgh that has a dozen industrial parks in Allegheny County, is taking the lead on developing the building. The RIDC depends on rents and land sales for its operational funds.
Tim White, vice president for development at the RIDC, is overseeing renovations at the Westmoreland site. Mr. White said the state owns the property, but the RIDC and the Westmoreland IDC are partners in managing it.
"It's going well," said Mr. White of the renovations. "We're replacing a section of the roof for Aquion right now. I think we'll be replacing sections of the roof for the rest of my lifetime. There's 50 acres of roof on that building.
"The RIDC has a lot of experience at turning these older, bigger properties into multi-tenant sites," he said. "We have a site in Turtle Creek called Keystone Commons that we've been developing for the past 20 years, it was the old Westinghouse Electric site. We now have 1,200 manufacturing jobs there and 40 companies."
The RIDC is also in the process of splitting the utility meters for individual tenants at the New Stanton site.
Mr. White said the Westmoreland site is especially attractive to manufacturing companies because of its proximity to major highways and to rail lines.
Last year, Aquion chose the Westmoreland site over those in several other states to manufacture its sodium battery, which can store solar or wind energy and later transmit it to a grid.
Aquion's headquarters are in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, and the company has been manufacturing a small number of the batteries there.
Aquion also announced earlier this month that it had obtained an additional $35 million in venture capital from several investment firms, including Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder. That is in addition to $30 million in capital that the company raised last year.
Aquion decided on the Westmoreland site after the state offered a package that included job-training money, low-interest loans and grants from state redevelopment. Westmoreland County Community College will be training workers.
Aquion CEO Scott Pearson said at an Allegheny Conference luncheon earlier this month that the company hoped to begin production in the third or fourth quarter of the year.
WCCC also plans to become a tenant at the RIDC-Westermoreland Center next year, when it moves its Advanced Technology Center from the Youngwood campus.
WCCC will lease and renovate approximately 72,000 square feet to house workforce development programs.
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com.