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SHERMAN, TX-A Valley Forge, PA-based insulation manufacturer is making a $155-million commitment to a North Texas town as it nears the closing date for a take-over of a 545,700-sf shuttered windshield factory on 40 acres. The City of Sherman, agreeing to buy and bank the site’s 147-acre balance, has beat out several cities in Texas, Louisiana and the Midwest for the win.

CertainTeed Corp. will buy the property, leased for the long term to Pilkington Holdings Inc. of Toledo, OH, from MRLR Sherman Inc. Texas Corp., a group of New York City investors that put the asset on the market 18 months ago when the windshield maker left Sherman for Detroit. The sale, which has yet to close, comes within months of Sherman, 64 miles north of Dallas, getting more dark news from another major employer as Johnson & Johnson Co. started to vacate a 549,000-sf facility just a half mile to the west in the Blalock Industrial Park.

Although the final paper has yet to be inked, CertainTeed has ordered the equipment and said it will close a 100,100-sf service center at 1135 W. Trinity Mills Rd. in Carrollton. The 75-employee shop will be relocated to Sherman as soon as the final permits are in hand, which should be within 30 to 60 days, says Tom Newton, CertainTeed’s spokesman. The pullout is believed to coincide with the lease expiration at a building occupied by CertainTeed for about a decade.

The Sherman plant at 1400 FM 1417, about two miles west of US Highway 75, will be equipped and retooled to manufacture fiberglass duct liner for acoustical and thermal purposes. The product had been manufactured in Corbin, KY, but a February explosion drove production to a Kansas City supplier and speeded the search for a CertainTeed-owned location.

Newton says the search began about a year ago for a strategic location to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing and distribution facility in the Central US. Two sites in North Texas made the short list after tours of several idle manufacturing sites in Louisiana, the Midwest and the Lone Star State.

John Boswell, president of the Sherman Economic Development Corp. (Sedco), tells GlobeSt.com that the city signed the performance plan yesterday. The plan’s first phase requires a $12-million capital investment in equipment and at least 60 jobs at startup, which will be in spring 2004. The second phase calls for a $143-million capital investment and another 140 jobs, which must be started before Dec. 31, 2011, and completed by Dec. 31, 2013. “I suspect they’re going to be ahead of that timetable,” Boswell says.

The deal calls for a double closing. Boswell says Sedco will buy and bank 147 acres of Pilkington’s 187-acre facility for CertainTeed’s expansion for the second leg of the commitment. “There are still steps to take, but they’ve committed to Sherman,” he says of the still-to-come closing.

Libbey Owens Ford built the 505,700-sf factory and 40,000-sf office building in the late 1970s. “It’s always good when you can find a user for such a large facility. It’s very important for it to be operational,” says Frank Gradek, Sedco’s vice president. City officials are hoping CertainTeed will hire part of the soon-to-be-idled workforce from Johnson & Johnson, a Sherman employer for 40 years. Meanwhile, they also are waiting to see what the Iowa Beef Processors has in store for a vacant Oscar Mayer plant positioned about a mile to the south. Boswell says the owner of the empty factory has merely told the town’s leaders to “stand by.”

Charles Finney and Jay Lorch, a CB Richard Ellis Inc. team in Dallas, were marketing the Pilkington facility, which carries a $9.4-million assessment for 2003. Lorch says only “two or three” prospects surfaced until CertainTeed came along.

CertainTeed Corp. has about 7,000 employees and more than 40 manufacturing facilities nationwide for its varied lineup of building materials. The Sherman plant will be dedicated to the insulation group. CertainTeed is a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain’s holding company in Valley Forge, overseer for the Paris-based parent’s US and Canadian businesses.

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