Officials hope new business boosts Turner economy

By Angie Thompson

ASHBURN -- Locals here are expecting Sunset Stone to provide a solid economic boon to the local economy. The ceremonial cutting of the ribbon Monday at the 97,000 square feet plant in the industrial park marked the end of a year of work to bring the business to Turner County.

Plant Manager Ronnie Whitehead, one of four Sunset Stone partners, said that the plant will produce simulated stone and expects to employ up to 45 people within two years.

"We will sell primarily to individual distributors and installers," Whitehead said. "Anybody can walk in and buy the stones."

The plant will start production in three weeks and begin with seven employees who will pour lightweight concrete and other "secret herbs and spices" and dyes into molds. The molds are then placed in a kiln where they harden. Workers then strip the molds away and pack the stones in boxes for shipping.

"They are 40 percent lighter than stone," Whitehead said. "The stones are used in high rises, department stores and for gateway openings."

The stones look remarkably similar to rough and smooth river rock and thinner brick-shaped rock in various colors. Whitehead, who said he brings a background in manufacturing with him to Sunset Stone, said the simulated stone he has purchased has come from Nashville, Tenn., California and Alaska and the local plant will be a first for the area.

The simulated stones cost approximately the same as the real stone, but Whitehead said there is less waste and the product is easier to work with.

"Grinders can cut it to fit in the space needed," Whitehead said.

"It it's stone, we are going to make it better," said Charlie McLain, another Sunset Stone business partner. Whitehead, McLain and sisters Pam Dollar and Pat Story are partners in the business.

Partners said they were able to make something positive out of the December closing of Homestead Homes in Cordele. Sunset Stone capitalized on the lose by employing several former Homestead Homes employees.

Whitehead credited Shelley Zorn, Ashburn Turner County Chamber of Commerce President and Economic Developer, and others from the chamber for their support.

"We just can't say enough about the Turner County Development Authority and the Chamber," Whitehead said. "We started working on this a year ago and they let us use some office space and fax machines."

Support, cooperation and Turner County's access to I-75 all contributed to the company's choosing its location, Whitehead said.

"This is where we wanted to be," Whitehead said.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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