Jacuzzi Inc. has postponed plans to begin making fiberglass tubs and other products in Salem, Va. The Walnut Creek, Calif., company had hoped to ready the leased, 164,000-square-foot building in Salem by July, according to Joe Yates, the city's director of planning and development. Yates said by phone Aug. 29 that he did not know what prompted Jacuzzi to hold off on production, since it has acquired all of the necessary permits.
But the Roanoke Times & reported Aug. 16 that a fiberglass shortage was at least part of the hitch. It also said the company was having trouble ``obtaining equipment.''
The Roanoke, Va., newspaper said the company's president and chief executive, Roy Jacuzzi, called the glass-fiber supply problem ``a terrible situation,'' especially in light of an unprecedented demand for its whirlpool tubs. The paper cited short supplies for all seven of the firm's Southern California plants. It said Jacuzzi has been sourcing fiberglass from Mexico, South America and China to supplement its usual suppliers.
Jacuzzi declined to be interviewed for this story.
In January glass-fiber producers predicted that the market would remain tight, at least until midyear. Although market growth has tapered off somewhat, demand for glass fiber still is exceeding supply.
``It's not an ultimate shortage where companies can't get [glass fiber]'' but a provisional one, said Bob Lacovara, technical director for the Composite Fabricators Association in Arlington, Va.
He said Aug. 21 that he had no firsthand knowledge of the prob-lems Jacuzzi might be facing. But starting up a new operation could be difficult at a time when some companies already are on allocation for glass fiber, he said.
Supplier Vetrotex CertainTeed Corp. of Valley Forge, Pa., is producing the material at its maximum while rebuilding some furnaces, said Catherine Gillis, manager for market research and planning.
``This has been a fairly tight year,'' she said. ``It doesn't surprise me [some companies] have had trouble finding glass. We have more or less told our customers what they can expect month to month.''
Yates said he had not contacted Jacuzzi about the delayed plant opening in Salem.
``I have left them alone,'' he said.
The city was disappointed when the previous tenant of the same building couldn't make a go of its operations there, Yates said.
Grove Worldwide, a U.S. crane manufacturer owned by Hanson plc of London, had just moved into the plant in 1990 when the ``bottom fell out of the construction industry,'' Yates said. Grove bailed out in 1993, taking with it the promise of as many as 1,200 jobs.
The building sat vacant for about a year before Jacuzzi, a former Hanson company, moved in in January, Yates said. Hanson holds the original lease, he said.
Meanwhile, Jacuzzi is using the building as a distribution site for its whirlpool baths, J-Dream shower systems and spas. As for a revised start-up schedule, ``they're talking about the first of the year,'' said Yates.
Once under way, the plant will produce 150-200 units per day, and employ about 150 workers, according to Yates. If Jacuzzi's strong sales continue, the plant could employ as many as 300, he said.
Jacuzzi vacuum forms the tubs and spas out of acrylic sheet, then applies fiberglass by a chop spraying process.
``This will be [Jacuzzi's] first manufacturing plant outside of Southern California,'' Yates said.
In its effort to bring industry to the area, Salem has targeted plastics firms, he said. The city, which offers no incentive packages, lures companies with its low-cost electricity, he said.
Hanson spun off Jacuzzi and several other of its noncore units May 31 to form a public company called U.S. Industries Inc., based in Iselin, N.J.