September 12, 2013

Engineered growth

New carpet plant injects much needed jobs, hope into northwest Georgia

“The carpet industry is going to flourish.”

When those seven words spoken by Robert E. “Bob” Shaw appeared in a Daily Citizen article in December 2011, skeptics might have scoffed at the bold prediction.

After all, the floorcovering industry had been mired in what some termed a depression since the national recession began taking hold in 2006. Manufacturers of both hard and soft surfaces had slashed jobs, cut worker hours and streamlined operations because of the scuffling economy.

On the final day of April of this year, Engineered Floors unveiled plans to build a new carpet plant in Dalton and another in the area. The two facilities represent a $450 million investment, and when the company’s overall expansion is completed, Engineered Floors expects to create 2,000 jobs. The company will more than double its current workforce of 1,600.

At more than two million square feet, company officials believe the new Dalton plant may be the largest manufacturing facility in the Southeast. The plant will employ about 1,000 workers.

Crews have begun work on the 200-plus acre site off Carbondale Road in Whitfield County where the plant will be built. There was no pomp and circumstance with an official groundbreaking, no golden shovel turning over the first pile of dirt and no chamber of commerce grip-and-grin photo. Just yellow bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks going about their business.

Company officials expect the plant to open in June 2014. It is the company’s tenth expansion in four years.

Officials with Engineered Floors believe the privately-held company is one of the fastest growing businesses in Georgia in terms of sales and number of people hired. Between its existing Calhoun and Dalton plants, the company has already built 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing space.

“We don’t know of anyone in the manufacturing industry that is expanding in the way that we are,” said Shaw, chairman and CEO of Engineered Floors. “We doubled in size, last year to this year. I think it’s time that we have some positive things talked about. For four years we’ve been talking about unemployment, the industry being off 40 percent. We’ve got a world of things going on. We’ve got a college over here that is picking up sports that will help publicize the college, we’ve got a grand hospital, we have churches, we have schools. We’ve got a lot of big things going on, and we think people need to be talking about them.”

Based in offices at the old Dalton City Hall downtown that Shaw renovated, Engineered Floors has expanded rapidly since its founding in 2009. The company began with a sole plant in Calhoun and eventually expanded into Dalton.

Engineered Floors produces stain-resistant and colorfast PureColor solution-dyed polyester yarns for residential replacement, builder and multi-family housing carpets. The company bought Dream Weaver Carpets, which specializes in residential carpets, in December 2011.

“We had a blank sheet of paper when we started,” Shaw said. “The other businesses had to downsize their operations to match the big decline in the carpet industry. We were not that much better, we were at a different starting point.”

A familiar name

Dalton is home for Shaw. He was born in Dalton, raised in Dalton, attended school in Dalton and made his fortune in Dalton. His connection to Dalton is a main reason he continues to invest here.

Shaw, now in his 80s, isn’t a carpet industry neophyte. You may recognize his last name from another well-known business.

Dalton-based Shaw Industries had its origins as a small dye house called Star Dye started by Shaw’s father, Clarence Shaw. From that business Bob Shaw and brother J.C. “Bud” Shaw founded Shaw Industries, which would grow into a multibillion dollar company and industry powerhouse that was later sold to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2001.

In September 2006, Shaw retired from Shaw Industries but stayed on as a consultant. At the time, he was the only CEO the company had ever had.

Company officials have high goals for Engineered Floors. The company won’t complete hiring for its existing Dalton plant off the south bypass until January 2014. During next year, Engineered Floors expects to add 800 to 900 employees in northwest Georgia. And those jobs are full time and “well above the minimum wage,” Shaw said.

“When we have a job fair — and we’re having a constant job fair — we will be hiring probably in northwest Georgia, which really means Whitfield, Murray and Calhoun, an average of 100 people a month,” Shaw said. “We’ll be interviewing probably 1,500 to get that 100 people.”

Those jobs are coveted by local leaders and jobseekers.

From June 2011 to June 2012, Metro Dalton (Murray and Whitfield counties) lost more jobs than any other metro region in the country. Since July 2006, the area has lost more than 13,000 jobs, according to federal statistics. In July of this year, the area’s unemployment rate rose to 12.3 percent, well above the national jobless rate of 7.4 percent.

‘Good for the psyche’

Ashley Thomason is one of those people looking for a job. The Catoosa County resident has been out of work since June 2012. Thomason wasn’t sure if she would apply for a job at the new Engineered Floors plant, but she is glad to finally hear good news about the economy.

“Any time you add that many jobs it’s going to help out the entire region a ton,” Thomason said. “I mean, I would love for them to build the plant near where I live, but it’s not that far of a commute for anyone in the area.”

Those good feelings are shared by the elected leaders in Whitfield County.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be good for the psyche in the fact that there’s new investment and new jobs coming to our area,” said Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners. “People probably think the only thing that would make it better is if it was an automotive plant or something different from floorcovering. But I like floorcovering. People get employed by the floorcovering industry. We’re proud to have them locate in the county.”

Although the floorcovering industry has not completely recovered from its long slump, Shaw is optimistic for its future success because “we’re no longer going down, we’re bumping right along the bottom.” He estimates the industry as a whole is about 1.5 percent ahead of 2012 in terms of sales. It’s the first “up year” since 2006, he said.

“The carpet industry is going to be good because we have a pent-up demand,” Shaw said. “You can go to the automotive business, they’re selling 9, 16 million cars. We’re a big ticket item just like they are and we’ve had a pent-up demand that is going to make a northwest Georgia that is going to be struggling for the right people. I told somebody I couldn’t get a job at my plant because I don’t like computers.”

And Shaw still sees the area’s future pinned to carpet.

“We built northwest Georgia on soft floorcovering, not hard surfaces,” Shaw said. “Quite frankly, that is the opportunity, even today.”

The love of competition

By telling Engineered Floors’ story, Shaw hopes to encourage other businesses.

“We don’t mind competition,” Shaw said. “We love competition.”

Shaw does see challenges. He believes Georgia’s business climate — though improved by the elimination of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing — lags when compared to bordering states such as Florida and Tennessee that have no state income tax.

“We expanded here knowing all of that,” Shaw said. “It wasn’t ignorance on our part. We did it because we wanted to be a part of northwest Georgia with Engineered Floors.”

He does worry the community is not attracting enough young professionals.

“All in all, if you think about what we’re doing, unless northwest Georgia can attract the younger couples with the proper school systems, then we’re going to become a bedroom community,” Shaw said. “And we’re kind of on the cusp of that. Some of them have no interest in coming back because there hasn’t been an opportunity in the past six, seven, eight years.”

But with investments like the new Engineered Floors plant, those opportunities may come more often.

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