The first event Chris Carr attended as the head of the Georgia Department of Economic Development was the November 2013 groundbreaking for Caesarstone’s manufacturing plant in South Bryan.
Carr returned Wednesday as Caesarstone celebrated the grand opening of its plant in Belfast Commerce Centre.
“To see this wonderful facility, there is definitely a ‘wow’ factor here,” he said. “I wasn’t going to miss this for anything in the world.”
The manufacturing plant is the first in the United States for Caesarstone, an Israeli company that produces quartz countertops. Caesarstone also is the first industry to build in Belfast Commerce Centre.
The site south of Richmond Hill was chosen for the plant after Caesarstone spent about a year evaluating approximately 75 sites in several states, Development Authority of Bryan County CEO Anna Chafin said. Local leaders touted the proximity to the Port of Savannah and interstates, available workforce and “superior quality of life that’s offered in Richmond Hill and the Savannah area,” Chafin said.
“We have found Georgia, Bryan County — specifically, Richmond Hill — is the best place for us,” Caesarstone CEO Yos Shiran said.
“I think they really fell in love with the community, just as all of us have,” Bryan County Commissioners Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said in a video that was played for the local and state officials and Caesarstone employees gathered for the celebration.
The first production line is up and running, and 107 people are employed at the South Bryan plant, according to Shiran.
A second line is expected to be added by the end of this year, he said, which will bring about 80 more workers.
“To Richmond Hill residents, it means graduates of our outstanding schools will not have to leave home to find good-paying jobs,” Mayor Harold Fowler said, drawing applause from the crowd.
“Our goal is with the Development Authority is to create quality jobs, and Caesarstone is doing just that,” Chafin said. “They’re creating advanced manufacturing jobs in Bryan County and Richmond Hill.”
Having the plant in South Bryan will help meet consumer demand for Caesarstone countertops and shorten the time for them to be delivered to customers in the U.S., Shiran said. The company also will be able to offer products made in America.
Caesarstone had global sales of more than $450 million in 2014, and its sales have grown by more than 500 percent in the last five years, Chafin told the audience. In fact, business has been so good in the last two years, Shiran said, that the company was stretched to its production capacity at its two plants in Israel.
“Now with this new factory, this limitation will be off the table,” Shiran said. “It will allow us to service the American market much better.”
Bryan County missed out on about 4,000 potential jobs when Volvo announced earlier this month that it had instead chosen the Charleston, South Carolina area as its site to build $500 million manufacturing plant. However, local leaders see the Caesarstone opening as an example of the county’s possibilities for manufacturers and job-seekers.
“I just think that this further validates that Bryan County is a great location for companies that are headquartered internationally,” Chafin said. “Hopefully, this is going to help give us some momentum to get some additional interest in the area. But today, we just want to celebrate Caesarstone opening their first manufacturing facility in the United States.”
The first operational production line and second planned line are just the start for the South Bryan plant. Caesarstone already has announced plans to expand the Belfast Commerce Centre facility.
“Before this facility was even opened, they announced an expansion,” Carr said, “which shows that if you locate in Richmond Hill and Bryan County and the state of Georgia, you will be successful.”
Carr plans to be back at the plant to celebrate that as well.
“Caesarstone will always have a special place in my heart,” he said.