By Karen Blackledge
The Daily Item
A $15 million grant to Columbia County will help protect two major businesses, and nearly 1,000 jobs, from flooding, a federal official said Wednesday.
“This means saving 900 critical manufacturing jobs and guaranteeing businesses stay and grow and create new jobs to invest in future support of American manufacturing,” said Matt Erskine, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for economic development in the Economic Development Administration.
Speaking in Autoneum of North America at 480 W. Fifth St., he said the flood control system will protect that company along with nearby Windsor Foods.
The grant, to Columbia County, will help build flood control systems, which will include flood walls, possibly moving utilities, moving a waterway, if necessary, and installing pumps.
Erskine said the grant was the largest amount awarded in the Economic Development Administration’s Philadelphia region. The money, from fiscal year 2012, was appropriated for disaster recovery projects.
He lauded U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta as a “long a champion of this great project.”
‘A long road’
“It’s been a long road to higher ground,” Barletta said.
“This makes it extra special for the jobs and to save jobs that will come in the future,” Barletta said. “We were able to make sure Washington knew how special this business and Windsor Foods are to the community and to the country.”
Autoneum makes carpets for vehicles and employs more than 700.
Saying “it really was a team effort,” Barletta commended Gov. Tom Corbett, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, Bloomsburg Mayor Dan Knorr and the Columbia County commissioners.
Representatives of the offices of Toomey and of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey also spoke.
“I cannot thank you enough. We were facing a community shrinking or keeping a job base and the ability to grow,” Knorr said.
Saying flood protection has been decades in the making, Knorr thanked Autoneum and Windsor employees for helping their companies to quickly recover from the September 2011 flood.
Barletta also thanked state Sen. John Gordner and state Rep. David Millard for their help with the project.
Autoneum has a connection to Montour County. It leases 60,000 square feet at the Iron Town Commerce Center in Danville, said Tim Hockney, vice president of manufacturing. The company recently began storing products there.
Town, county chip in
Erskine said the Bloomsburg flood protection project also includes a co-investment of $11.8 million from the state and $3.2 million from Columbia County. The total project cost is estimated at $30 million.
Erskine spoke at Autoneum’s Building 42, a production building, following a tour. He said it was an impressive manufacturing facility that started supplying horse and buggy users in the 1800s and has grown to become a top global manufacturer.
He said the federal government’s investment in the flood protection system is aimed at ensuring Autoneum doesn’t have to shut down again. The shutdown affected auto manufacturers in the U.S.
Tropical Storm Lee caused a record crest of 32.7 feet of the Susquehanna River in 2011.
It left about one-third of Bloomsburg under water.
The project will include construction of flood protection systems at two separate industrial sites.
The first includes construction of a 5,300-foot flood wall, relocation of about 2,100 feet of Snyder Run, a new pump station and storm water and groundwater conveyance and a new collection system.
The second site includes construction of a 3,000-foot flood wall, a sewage pump station and relocation of utilities.
The project is part of a $200 million appropriation by Congress to the Economic Development Administration to help communities with a major disaster designation in fiscal year 2011 with long-term economic recovery and infrastructure support.