The flagship that the Effingham Industrial Development Authority long sought for its tract at Highways 275 and 21 made quite a splash Monday morning.
Though the memorandum of understanding between the state and EFACEC was signed more than two years ago, and a groundbreaking was held nearly 18 months ago, Monday’s inauguration ceremony for the Portuguese company’s Rincon facility is expected to auger well for the community.
“This event is unbelievable,” said Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry. “It’s a sign of things to come.”
“Today is a day of great pride and contentment for all of us,” said EFACEC shareholder Dr. Antonio Gonçalves. “This plant is a major step in the ambitious goal for achieving sustainable growth worldwide.”
Included among the festivities were Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Portuguese Minister of Finance Dr. Texieira dos Santos. The invitation-only gathering also received guided tours of the massive plant and an introduction into what EFACEC will do at the location.
“This is a moment to celebrate success,” said Dr. dos Santos.
The company is making shell and core transformers at the plant, with the first shipments expected to be finished soon.
Over the past three years, the company’s revenue has tripled — even in the face of the worst economic crisis in 60 years, said EFACEC CEO Luis Filipe Pereira.
“That’s a testament to the growth pattern this company is on,” Henry said.
By the time the second phase of the manufacturing facility is completed, the $185 million total investment by EFACEC in its Rincon location will represent one of the largest investments by a Portuguese company in the U.S., Pereira said.
“This inauguration represents a crucial stage in EFACEC’s growth and development,” he said. “The United States is an exciting market.”
The company is expected to have a workforce of 600 by 2016 and there are about 200 employees now. When the company is at full operation, its effect is expected to generate 1,500 jobs.
“This is a big deal for Georgia, for Effingham County, for Rincon and for all of southeast Georgia,” Gov. Perdue said.
EFACEC operates 10 business units, including transportation, engineering and environmental services, in 65 countries.
The time frame from the groundbreaking and the beginning of operations was only one year and two months, Pereira boasted.
An initial wave of 57 employees went through training in the U.S. and Portugal. The first wave of employees spent an average of nine months in Portugal learning EFACEC’s processes, splitting their time between the classroom and the shop floor.
EFACEC received 10,000 applications and conducted more than 500 interviews for its initial workforce. The state, through its QuickStart program, assisted in putting together the training programs.
“The cooperation between Savannah Technical College and QuickStart was crucial to carrying out that process,” Pereira said.
The governor also praised the efforts of QuickStart in getting EFACEC in and off the ground quickly.
“It’s a great tool,” Perdue said. “When companies come and we recruit them, they cannot imagine the benefit. It’s only when they get here and the workforce is assembled and trained do they see the benefit. It’s a great advantage we have.”
“We are very pleased with the people we have hired in the United States,” Pereira said.
The first phase is 250,000 square feet and at its highest point, it is equivalent to an eight-story building. Ground was broken in September 2008 and operations began in late October 2009. Built by BE&K, there were 36 companies involved in construction, with as many as 317 workers on the site on any day.
“It is with great pride we see this investment come to completion on time and within budget,” Gonçalves said.
The investment in the U.S. is in response to a growing demand in a market where EFACEC already enjoys a good reputation and record in supplying power transformers to utilities, Gonçalves said. From 2007-09, EFACEC’s sales have grown 120 percent and the volume of business has increased by two and a half times.
Perdue said meeting the company was akin to meeting his wife — it was love at first sight for both, he joked.
“It was evidently a company with a strong tradition and history but had the energy and the vision of a startup entrepreneurial company that really meant business,” he said.
At its Rincon facility, EFACEC will make shell and core transformers. Those transformers originally were a U.S. innovation, but no American companies make them anymore.
EFACEC has a number of U.S. utility providers among its clients and its products made at Rincon also may be shipped worldwide.
“Acting global is not an option. Acting global is, in several ways, the grounds for economies to develop and to grow,” dos Santos said. “Portugal has been investing in science and technology but also investing in innovation.”
There were several reasons why EFACEC selected Rincon as its first U.S.-based manufacturing facility, Pereira said.
“It was clear we had something special to offer to you,” Gov. Perdue said. “This project moved so quickly because the customer understood their needs and the strategy was well thought out.
“I think the best is ahead,” the governor continued.
The company also moved 35 Portuguese expatriates to Rincon to help with the new facility’s beginning.
“We came here as foreigners,” said Jorge Guerra, EFACEC’s director of U.S. operations. “We are now locals.”