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To our new friends, we say bem vindo
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It has been a long time in coming, but Thursday’s ceremonial turning of the dirt was symbolic on many levels.

It marked the realization that Portuguese manufacturer EFACEC was committed to coming to Effingham County and building its first production facility in the U.S. in the Effingham Industrial Park. It also showed that, even as the real estate market struggles and the U.S. economy wobbles along, there is still plenty of growth ahead for Effingham County.

Work on the site at the intersection of Highways 21 and 275 has been going on for a short while and hopefully within about 14 months the first phase of the plant will be up and running. When that happens, more than 200 people will be employed at the EFACEC plant, and that will be just the tip of the iceberg.

Those employment numbers are expected to swell to 420 by 2013 and eventually top out at around 675 in 2017 when the second phase of the facility is finished. The wages paid to EFACEC workers are expected to be very good, with the average annual salary — on last year’s estimates — to be approximately $50,000.

At the beginning of 2009, at least 40 and perhaps as many as 51 engineers and specialists will go to Portugal to learn EFACEC’s techniques and processes. The state, through its QuickStart program, is helping the new workers and EFACEC put together the training manuals needed. Savannah Technical College’s Effingham campus — literally, a stone’s throw from where EFACEC’s front doors eventually will be — also will play a role in getting a workforce needed to turnout the electrical transformers the company builds.

The only disappointment to be found from Thursday is in who wasn’t there. EFACEC brought its president, CEO and some of its directors and major shareholders from Portugal and they seem to have taken quite well to Southern hospitality. However, our own state failed to have either its chief executive officer, its lieutenant governor or its commissioner for economic development on hand for a major event. Yes, Gov. Sonny Perdue is abroad again on another recruiting trip, having left Saturday. At least his itinerary includes a stop at EFACEC headquarters in Porto to meet with company officials. It would have been preferable if the governor had been here Thursday but at least he’s not ignoring our new Portuguese friends.

And to them, we say “muito obrigado” and “bem vindo.” (That’s “thank you very much” and “welcome” in Portuguese).