Town Council Opens Doors For Cabinet Manufacturer

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They don't know exactly where it will be located yet, but James and Sioux Hill of Chandler are planning to move their cabinet door manufacturing company and 75 jobs with wages in the high $20s to Payson.

Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Kaleta, on behalf of the Hills, asked the Payson Town Council Tuesday to sell the cabinet company five acres of airport land, and despite protests from aviation enthusiasts and State Trust Land entanglements, the council voted 5-2 to negotiate with the Arizona Department of Transportation to make the sale.

According to Town Manager Rich Underkofler, town officials want to clear the sale with ADOT because the property was purchased with a grant based on the town's pledge to use the land for aeronautical purposes.

But by Wednesday, town officials were exploring a simpler solution selling the company five acres of town-owned land by the airport that's currently occupied by a town maintenance yard. After a quick trip to Payson Thursday to look at the new site, Hill said he could live with either option.

The primary advantage to the second site is that Hill could move his company, which has outgrown its 25,000-square-foot facility, much sooner than the first site would allow. If the Hills and the council opt for the second site, the town maintenance yard would be moved to the airport site.

A special council meeting has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday to consider selling the second site to the Hills.

That location had not been considered earlier because it was occupied.

"While we were searching for a site that would meet their needs, we never thought about an occupied piece of land," Kaleta said.

The Hills' company, The Door Stop, is the largest manufacturer of cabinet doors in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah and ships its products throughout the western United States.

"We thoroughly checked them out," Kaleta, a moving force behind The Door Stop's relocation, said, "and they are about as good as it gets."

What attracted the company's owners to Payson was the potential labor force. "We were looking for a place to relocate, and we had almost settled on the Chandler Airport area where land is about 20 percent cheaper than it is in Payson.

"But we're looking for a stable labor force," he said. "We're looking for people who appreciate good paying jobs with benefits, because we're having trouble finding them where we are now." Hill said he currently has eight jobs he is unable to fill.

During the special council meeting Tuesday, both Underkofler and Kaleta emphasized The Door Stop's credibility, the quality of the jobs it will bring to the Rim country, and the limited impact it will have on resources like water.

In presenting the issue for council consideration, Underkofler pointed out that the company's average annual wage would be $28,000, with a payroll of $1.4 million; that "good benefits" would also be provided; and that the company employs "a low water use manufacturing process that does not utilize chemicals."

Vice Mayor Dick Wolfe, who worked closely with Kaleta to land the deal, explained that he had looked for other possible sites. "I sat with (Community Development Director) Bob Gould and we looked at the land use plan for other options. There were none," Wolfe said.

After the meeting, Hill expressed his satisfaction with the decision. "We're very pleased," he said. "The outcome was the best we could have hoped for."

Moving his company to a small town is something Hill, an Arizona native who was born in Cottonwood, is excited about. "We have some employees who grew up in small towns, and many of them would have preferred to stay there but couldn't afford to," he said.

While Hill plans to only move about six current employees to the Rim country, he will maintain an administrative and shipping facility in Chandler. "Some of our people have already driven up here to look around, and they're as excited as I am," Hill said.

An optimistic timetable for the site south of the airport is to acquire the land by the end of the first quarter of next year and complete the move by Thanksgiving. Since the town already owns the second site, its selection would allow that timetable to be accelerated.

Regardless of which location is ultimately selected, Hill is anxious to get moving. "We'll probably hire a few people even before the building is completed and bring them down here for training," he said.

Plans call for a 40,000-square-foot facility in Payson that can be expanded to 80,000 square feet within three years.

While Hill said expansion is dependent on work force availability and the business climate, he pointed out that the company has experienced growth averaging 20 percent for 14 consecutive years.

The company is currently expanding its product line and is installing "several hundred thousand dollars in new equipment," Hill said.

After the council meeting, Mayor Ray Schum said, "I really respect those who took a position in favor of the airport, but theirs was a parochial view. They were looking at what's good for the airport.

"Economic development is what's good for the town, and this was the right move for the majority," he said.

Hill noted that while he and his wife are conservative by nature and don't want to call this a "done deal" until it is, they are both very optimistic. "We think we've found a match here," he said.

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