Manufacturer expects to create more than 400 jobs in Bristol

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Diagrams and photos illustrate the production of hand
and bath towels. Photo by Earl Neikirk/Bristol Herold Courier

Bristol took a big hit in 2016 when Ball Corp. closed its 260,000-square-foot beverage packaging plant, eliminating 230 jobs. That facility, however, now has a new owner who plans to create 405 manufacturing jobs.

“We are getting back what we lost,” says Bart Poe, executive director of the Bristol Virginia Industrial Development Authority who also is the city’s interim director of economic development. “This was a great shot in the arm for us. We needed this.”

The Bristol plant now is owned by American Merchant, a newly formed company that is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Merchant House International Ltd. Merchant House makes home textiles, seasonal décor products and leather shoes.

American Merchant is investing $19.9 million to convert the plant for the production of embroidered hand and bath towels.

Until 1998, the plant was owned by Richmond-based Reynolds Metals Co. “Reynolds did a great job when they were here,” Poe says. “They patented a lid that they made for the tops of cans.”

Before Ball left Bristol in 2016, the company spent six months conducting repairs and maintenance on the facility. “When we started showing the property, it was pristine,” Poe says. “The company did a fantastic job. They did the groundwork, making it easier for us to market the building.”

American Merchant’s equipment should start arriving in March. “They are estimating six to eight months for the upfit to be ready for production,” Poe says.

The company is ready to start hiring and training employees. “We’ve not had textiles in Bristol for a while, and we’re looking forward to this,” Poe says.

During the site selection process, Bristol competed with sites in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe approved a $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s  Opportunity Fund to assist the city with the project. The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission also approved $590,000 in Tobacco Region Opportunity funds.

American Merchant also is eligible to receive additional grants and state benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program and Appalachian Regional Commission, both administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

“American Merchant was pleased with what we could do and what we had available,” Poe says. “When we get something like this we go all out to make sure we get the business. It’s nice to have what a prospect needs and bring it home.” 

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