TIFTON — American Textile Company celebrated the opening of its new Tifton pillow manufacturing facility on Magnolia Industrial Boulevard Tuesday morning with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and a tour of the plant for those attending the event. The 218,000-square-foot facility is now state-of-the art. Officials with the company didn’t see the building’s potential when they first saw it in October. Known by local economic developers as the “four walls building,” it originally had dirt floors and the offices weren’t finished. They chose Tifton’s site among 11 they toured over a three-day period.
“If you didn’t see it before, it’s hard to appreciate what it is right now,” said Rick Johnson, the plant’s manager.
Johnson led numerous dignitaries, members of the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce, representatives of local educational agencies and other members of the community through the building. American Textile Company employees and the machines there worked to prepare the “virgin polyester fiber” for stuffing into the cases to produce the pillows.
Johnson led people to various sections of the production process, including the blow fill area where the fluffed polyester filling that has been machine brushed and combed is blown into a case through a hole by an employee operating a foot pedal. The hole is then later closed by another employee with sewing machine stitches. Then it was off to the maintenance area, where repairs to machinery are made “during break times.”
“Time is the money in production,” Johnson said.
Rollers for some of the processing machines can be made on site, he said, with the use of a huge lathe.
“It saves the company $1,500 in shipping each time we make our own roller,” he said.
Johnson said the company produced 35,000 pillows this week — 240 pillows per hour at 71 percent efficiency. Trucks will begin shipping the pillows out next week and production will increase as employees pick up speed.
“This is the fourth manufacturing operation in the U.S. for us,” said Mark Bachner, vice president of operations. “You don’t hear that a lot about American manufacturing.”
The company is a leading supplier of bed pillows, mattress protectors and mattress pads. In addition to the new Tifton plant, the company has operations in Duquesne, Pa., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Dallas, Texas.
Johnson said the company’s Tifton site is set to accommodate more shipping in the large warehouse. He said the king-size pillows produced in the Tifton plant can already be found on the shelves at Tifton’s WalMart.
Lance Ruttenberg, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said the state of Georgia contributed $4.1 million to renovate the building and the Tift County Development Authority contributed $1.1 million. He said employment there could grow to 120 in the next few years.
Brian Marlowe, president and CEO of the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Tifton-Tift County Development Authority, said “partnering is the key to success of any endeavor.” He said the $4 million OneGeorgia grant made the project happen.
“We need OneGeorgia to continue to be funded to be competitive with metro Atlanta,” Marlowe said.
Tifton Mayor Jamie Cater said that he “knew we had a strong team and that we had a winner” with the people who worked until the company committed to the Tifton site. He thanked Marlowe and the company for choosing Tifton.
Sen. Austin Scott (R-Tifton) thanked the company for “growing jobs in Georgia, especially in South Georgia.”
“We have to compete,” Scott said. “That’s all there is to it. America has been through much tougher times than now and we’ll get through it. We make it better right here in America.”
Scott said he hoped that the country would begin to export more products produced here.
“All of us who have jobs have them because of agriculture and manufacturing,” Scott said. “We have to make sure we are taking care of that foundation to get the economy up and running.”
To contact senior reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321.