VALDOSTA -- In a dedication ceremony Friday for the Letica Corporation's new $7 million production facility in the Azalea East Industrial Park, company Vice President Mara Letica said the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority helped bring the expansion to fruition.

"We've built plants coast to coast, north to south, and this Development Authority is No. 1. They know what they're doing and are tireless in their efforts," she said.

Landlocked at the packaging facility the company purchased in the Azalea City Industrial Park in 1992, Letica was wavering between expanding in Valdosta or consolidating operations at a plant in Alabama.

"We had a lot of options," said company President Anton "Tony" Letica. "What kept us here was the community, the Industrial Authority and all their assistance. The workforce is different here, too, and our employees are proud to work and have a job with us."

The new facility is nearly three times larger than the previous one, with 175,000 square feet. Letica said the company is only utilizing about 25 percent of its capacity at this time, and intends to expand and grow the operation in Valdosta. Currently, the company employs 90 with plans to add an additional 30 employees, at a minimum, Letica said.

The impressive facility, constructed by Ordner Construction of Atlanta, is the first to occupy the new Azalea East Industrial Park. When the company was looking for potential sites for expansion, Mara Letica said the space she liked on Clay Road was nothing but farmland -- no rail line and no water and sewer.

With the assistance of the Industrial Authority, the project received several grants. The Georgia General Assembly approved a $500,000 grant for the rail spur to serve the site, another $500,000 grant was approved by the Department of Community Affairs for water and sewer to serve the park, and Norfolk Southern contributed $170,000 to complete the rail line.

At the dedication Friday, Industrial Authority Chairman Jerome Tucker said the board's focus has shifted to helping existing industries already located in Lowndes County to grow.

Tucker also explained how heavily involved the late Mayor James H. Rainwater was in helping the project receive attention at the local and state levels. "This is a tribute to the mayor. He was an integral part of this project and many others in our community over the years."

Valdosta Mayor David Sumner, Lowndes County Commission Chairman Rod Casey, and Sen. Tim Golden all spoke of the efforts of the various government agencies and praised the community for having a pro-business approach.

"Letica knows this is a pro-business community," said Golden, speaking on behalf of the legislators present, including Representatives Ellis Black, Jay Shaw and Ron Borders. "I applaud you for your commitment to Valdosta and Lowndes County."

In addition to thanking all of the community leaders for their assistance and welcoming attitude, Tony Letica presented the plant's employees with an award for three years without a no-lost-time accident.

On a tour of the new facility, Tony Letica said it is now up to Letica's standards for how they want their employees to be treated. "In the old facility, it could get up to 110 degrees on the (manufacturing) line. This one is climate controlled, so it will stay a constant 73 degrees with a certain amount of humidity."

He said once the facility is fully equipped and running at capacity, it will generate $80 million in annual sales. The company's primary customers from the Valdosta plant include National Gypsum, which uses the plastic containers for drywall, Sherwin Williams, and USG Corporation.

Letica Corporation, a family owned company, has 14 locations across the United States and manufactures five gallon plastic containers, which are the industry standard for paint, chemicals and food packaging, along with other plastic and paper packaging.

Headquartered in Rochester, Mich., the company was founded in 1968 by Ilija Letica, an immigrant from Croatia, who transformed his engineering consulting company into a plastic injection molding business. Although still active in the business, daily operations are now run by the brother/sister team of Tony and Mara Letica, who also serve as legal counsel for the company.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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