Creps United Publications and the Indiana County Development Corp. ceremonially broke ground on the company’s new printing plant Friday morning, marking the beginning of its rise from the ashes.
“To steal a line from the chairman of our board of commissioners, it’s a great day in Indiana County,” said ICDC President Jim Wiley, speaking to the few dozen local business leaders, elected officials and Creps family members who attended the ceremony, held at the site of its future home at Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park.
Creps United is rebuilding from a fire in October that caused an estimated $75 million in damage, destroying the company’s plant along Christy Park Drive off Philadelphia Street.
As many as 180 people were put out of work as a result of the fire, which left the company’s future very much in doubt.
“We knew that we faced an uphill climb to get our business back, or even if we were going to get our business back,” said Jake Creps, Creps United’s managing partner.
“What we didn’t realize at the time was the tremendous support we would receive from the Indiana community. Through monetary donations, services provided to our employees, food for our families, it seemed like the entire town rallied together to support our displaced workers and their families,” he said. “Their response is something none of us in our family will ever forget.”
In committing to rebuilding at Windy Ridge, Creps United will become the commercial park’s first tenant.
Construction work is to begin Tuesday, when excavation crews from Greensburg-based Adam Eidemiller Inc. will start roughing in an access road and leveling a space for the new plant. The company is performing the work under a $213,400 contract.
Site preparation work is to conclude by April 23, when the plant’s construction will start. The overall project is on an expedited scheduled as Creps is expected to take delivery of the first of its new presses in early July.
As the work progresses, the ICDC will be putting together site development and subdivision plans for the 197-acre park, which sits off routes 286 and 422 in White Township. The ICDC also will be building access roads and extending utilities.
Creps and the ICDC are moving ahead with the project on a handshake agreement — the closing hasn’t yet occurred.
Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, said the company is paying $70,000 per acre for a 9.4-acre plot, which will be accessed from Route 286 at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks. The nonprofit ICDC acquired the site for $14,500 per acre.
Site development costs, which the ICDC is fronting, are being rolled into the sale price.
Several of those who spoke during the ceremony Friday said credit is due to the Creps family for choosing to keep the business going.
“They didn’t have to rebuild their business. They didn’t have to rebuild their business here in Indiana County. We’re thankful for their commitment to the community,” said state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana.
And Bob Kane, chairman of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce, said that the dollars paid to employees will circulate locally several times over. “All the business in this area are going to benefit from your investment,” he said.
Indiana County Commissioner Rod Ruddock said job preservation is a priority in the county, adding that when jobs are lost, tremendous effort goes into replacing them. But because Creps has chosen to rebuild, the company has spared the county a lot of work, he said.
The company, meanwhile, is being spared some expense.
Windy Ridge falls within what’s known as a Keystone Opportunity Zone, a state economic development program. Qualifying businesses that locate within such zones are allowed to forgo paying local and state taxes for a time, in this case until Dec. 31, 2019.
Given that, Indiana Area School District and Indiana County won’t see any property tax revenue from the plant over the next seven years. It’s too early to say how much that abatement might be worth, Stauffer said.
The ICDC purchased the land for Windy Ridge in 2011. At the time, it had no tenants to put in the park, and no guarantee that it would.
“This was not a risk-free proposition for the ICDC,” Kane said during the ceremony. The ICDC paid $2.85 million for the site.
Despite the cost to the nonprofit organization, officials said that to entice businesses to set up shop here, the county needed to have ready-to-build pad sites to offer.
And those are lacking in southwestern Pennsylvania, according to Dewitt Peart, executive vice president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, a regional economic development organization.
“Lack of industrial sites in the Pittsburgh region really creates issues for us … in attracting business and helping existing businesses expand,” he said during the ceremony.
Windy Ridge is one of two properties the ICDC purchased with the intent of building commercial parks. The other, referred to as the Joseph Land Development, sits off Route 119 in Center Township, just off Luciusboro Road.
Wiley said discussions are under way with a few businesses that have expressed more than a passing interest in moving to either of the commercial parks, Wiley said. He, however, declined to identify them.