Eagle expansion moving forward

WELLSBURG – Months after getting a clean bill of health on a 4-acre property in a prime location along state Route 2, Eagle Manufacturing already is building a new warehouse and office space that will allow the century-old company to grow its manufacturing operations.

Eagle President and CEO Joe Eddy said the acquisition of the old Banner-Fiberboard property was “for our own corporate development, so we could plan our strategic growth.”

Eagle acquired the property in 2012 for roughly $1.2 million, according to courthouse records.

“Without additional room to expand, we’d really run out of answers for growth,” Eddy said. “The Banner-Fiberboard property gave us an opportunity to design our growth for the next five years.”

Eddy said a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and another 1,200-square-foot office space already are under construction. “Ultimately, we’ll use it as a distribution center, and we have additional development potential of 60,000 square feet,” he said, adding additional buildings could be commissioned “most likely over the next five years.”

More to the point, the current building project will free up space in the existing plant, “give us the ability to move some of our warehoused products into it, so we can expand our manufacturing capacity. Most likely, the expansion will be of our plastics business.”

Eddy said buying idled industrial properties can be risky business, and this deal in particular might not have closed had the Phase I and II brownfield assessments been done through the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

“It was a very large investment, and with the risk limited by defining the environmental (issues) up front, it gave us a comfort level to follow through on the property,” Eddy said. “It’s too high a risk to make a (big) investment when you don’t know what the ultimate cost might be to clean it up.”

A Phase I assessment offers an indication of what kinds of things might have been done on a particular property; Phase II involves taking soil samples and identifying what, if any, contaminants might be on site.

Grant money can’t be used to clean up privately owned property, so the company that had originally purchased the site for salvage paid for its remediation. Once that was done, Eagle was cleared to purchase the site.

Eddy said having that “environmental definition” lowered his company’s risk. “That’s how a brownfield should be developed,” he added.

Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne described it as “the glue we needed to make it work.”

“We had to get the site cleaned up,” Henne said. “No one had been interested in it, it was just sitting there with all its health issues and environmental issues.”

The $81,000 it cost to have site contaminants identified was worth it, he said, “to get a blighted block in Wellsburg, on Route 2, cleaned up, with one of our local industries purchasing it.”

“They’re reinvesting and expanding their business, which is going to (grow) the tax base,” Henne added. “That’s the way the Brownfield program is supposed to work.”

BHJ Chairman Marvin Six said the goal is “to get properties into the hands of people who are going to create jobs.”

“Usually, (private business) doesn’t have access to the funds we have access to,” he said.

BHJ, in fact, had a total of $400,000 in brownfield assessment funds to work with- half to assess hazardous sites, the other half to assess petroleum-contaminated sites.

Eddy, meanwhile, said the burgeoning shale oil and gas industry has breathed new life into their business – sales of Eagle’s safety cans and spill containment products have spiked locally – as well as the local economy, so they weren’t the only ones interested in the Banner-Fibreboard property.

“It’s only 4 acres, but it’s a great location,” he said. “It’s a high profile piece of property, I’m glad we were able to acquire it. The competition for the property was obviously, initially, commercial development, but I think because of its historical brownfield condition, it’s best use is for industrial use, a more permanent use. Eagle buying the property and expanding, it’s not temporary, it’s permanent growth. We’re looking ahead to the next 10, 20 or 50 years.”

Eagle has 175 employees. Founded in 1894, plastics currently represent about 50 percent of the company’s business.