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Awningtec seeks tax break, plans new jobs

A Harrison County business is seeking a 10-year property tax abatement to help defray costs of expansion.
But before that tax abatement can be granted, the Harrison County Council must declare the location where the business is located as an economic revitalization area, something the council expects to vote on next week.
Awningtec USA, located off S.R. 62 West, requested the tax abatement from the Harrison County Council last week. They have already gotten approval from the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., which is also recommending the abatement.
A public hearing will be Monday, Jan. 22, at 7:30 p.m., before the council’s regular meeting, on declaring Awningtec’s land an economic revitalization area. If the council approves the change, it could grant the tax abatement at the same meeting.
However, some officials don’t believe both actions will happen next week.
Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., said he believes since the council just changed attorneys the process may be prolonged.
Voelker said a resolution must be drawn up for the tax abatement before the council can take action, and he is unsure if the council and its new attorney have had enough time to do so.
‘My guess is they won’t be prepared to (vote on the tax abatement),’ Voelker said.
However, Voelker said he felt if they approved the economic revitalization next week, they would approve the tax abatement even if that decision comes later.
Voelker told the council last week that Awningtec has the support of economic development, and the company has a great deal to bring to the county. The tax abatement will help Awningtec with a planned 25,000-square-foot expansion. The business currently has about 15,000 square feet under roof.
Voelker said Awningtec is prepared to invest $445,000 in real estate and $390,000 in personal property, which includes production equipment, if granted the tax abatement.
Awningtec got the approval of the Harrison County Commissioners last month for a zoning change from A-R to I-1a (light industrial) for property near Awningtec that had been purchased for the expansion.
Mansen Way, president of Awningtec USA, said the tax abatement will help his business grow, which he says will create jobs for the county.
‘It’s certainly going to ease the financial burden,’ he said. ‘We’ve already made a significant investment in the buildings we have.’
Way said his company, which manufactures backlight awnings and illuminated signs, will see a significant increase in sales and the volume of workload over the next few months.
One of Awningtec’s major clients is Yum! Brands Inc., which includes Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut.
Way said Yum! Brands is pushing to have all of its KFC stores remodeled by 2008 which is creating more volume for his company, which supplies all the awnings and signs for KFC and Taco Bell. Currently, there are three designs Awningtec manufactures for KFC.
The expansion of Way’s business includes expanding its current product line so Awningtec will make the signs it supplies to other companies. Currently, Way purchases the signs from other companies. The expansion will also help Awningtec manufacture most of its products under one roof, not in a separate building as it does now. ‘This will be a major, major improvement,’ Way said.
Way said he currently has 27 employees and, after the expansion, he expects to grow 50 percent fairly quickly and possibly more if the volume of workload continues to increase.
Employees at Awningtec earn about $8 per hour as a beginning wage. Those with experience start out higher, and employees see an average increase of $2 to $4 an hour after 18 months.
Way said all training for employees is done in-house and no experience is necessary, plus he pays for employees to take specialized courses. ‘I wish more would take me up on it,’ he said.
Way formed Awningtec USA in 1997. He owned a similar business in Canada, which he sold. That business, Way said, was much larger, one with 45 employees.
‘I’m familiar with operating a larger business,’ he said.
Way said he was told he could be eligible for a tax abatement by the economic development corporation Awningtec has never received a tax abatement from the county.
If everything goes as planned, Way said he hopes to have the expansion finished and operational as early as May.
If granted, the 10-year tax abatement will decline on a sliding scale. Taxes are forgiven 100 percent the first year and the percentage declines over 10 years to zero percent.