Hilliard, Ohio-based Advanced Drainage Systems Inc. is going forward with plans to build a plastic pipe extrusion plant in Lake Wales, Fla., that will create up to 200 jobs meeting demand for products to manage large storms and weather events.
ADS announced the project in January but encountered some red tape delays and opposition that prompted company officials to make "our promise to Lake Wales" when it comes to being a community partner.
"ADS is always committed to being a good neighbor in all of the communities where we live, work and play," Brian King, vice president of product management, marketing and sustainability, said in an email. "This was the first official articulation of that commitment, focusing on eight key areas: transparency and accountability; great job opportunities; educational partnerships; the highest level of safety; environmental protection; being a good neighbor; investing in the community; respect for all."
Construction will begin next year on a plant King described as "the company's largest manufacturing facility investment to date." However, the exact amount of the investment isn't known yet, he added.
"We are still in the design phase and expect it will be about a 375,000-square-foot facility," King said.
A city staffer once estimated the development will represent a $100 million investment, while Javier Marin, vice president of business development for the Central Florida Development Council, offered other numbers. He said ADS was investing about $250 million in the facility, which will pay about $15 million in total compensation and indirectly generate another 111 jobs.
The new plant is an important investment in a key region, according to ADS President and CEO Scott Barbour.
"We have experienced significant growth in Florida and the Southeast in recent years, and this facility will help us meet our commitments in the region while giving us the flexibility to expand further as we continue to grow," Barbour said in a Nov. 2 news release.
Founded in 1966, ADS manufactures corrugated high-density polyethylene and polypropylene pipe, plastic leach field chambers and septic tanks for managing water and drainage in the underground construction and agriculture markets. The company's products prevent flooding, pollution, erosion and other environmental issues.
ADS generates annual pipe sales of about $2.4 billion, making the company, which is publicly traded as WMS for water management solutions, the No. 4 pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
ADS also is the No. 2 recycler, reprocessing an estimated 620 million pounds of plastic in the most recent year, according to another Plastics News ranking.
The company has 53 U.S. plants with the next to be built on a 100-acre site in central Florida some 60 miles south of Orlando. Barbour said the facility will complement ADS' other manufacturing plants in Sebring and Winter Garden, which will continue to operate to meet demand for stormwater products in the state and region.
"ADS products protect and manage water, the world's most precious resource, safeguarding the environment and communities," Barbour said.
"Large-scale stormwater-related natural disasters are occurring more frequently and with higher intensity. These events underpin the need for innovative stormwater management solutions that meet the challenges we face today. Water is a precious and finite resource we must protect, and this facility will enable us to continue to do so."
Still, the project has its detractors.
Back in May, lawn signs saying: "Lake Wales stop toxic pipe plant" popped up along roads with a red circle slash over a factory image.
The plan to build a plastics manufacturing plant where citrus groves once stood and near neighborhoods with large minority populations drew scrutiny from residents of Lake Wales and beyond.
Passions reportedly ran high when the City Commission voted 5-0 to change a land-use code to let the ADS plant move forward without a special permit.
There had been confusion about whether the site's designation as Industrial-1 land — a decision made more than a decade ago for a project that didn't materialize — would allow the level of industrial activity ADS plans, according to a local media outlet, The Ledger.
The ADS project fit the light industrial category except for its plans to store finished pipes outside. That was considered a heavy industrial use.
However, under the land use revision approved in May, heavy manufacturing reportedly is now permitted at the Industrial-1 site. The change meant that the ADS plant only needed approval from the city's planning staff, The Ledger reported.
To alleviate concerns about the development, ADS officials hosted a town hall and enacted a "commitment to the Lake Wales community." They promised to "protect and invest" in Lake Wales, offer career development, sponsor the community's Pioneer Days event, and partner with a local group to clean the Tiger Creek Preserve, which has a high concentration of endangered plants and animals.
"The town hall we hosted in Lake Wales in April was a great opportunity to answer questions and connect with residents, and we've continued to see very strong support from members of the Lake Wales community," King said. "And we've remained committed throughout this process to Lake Wales, most recently sending more than 30 volunteers for a community cleanup of Tiger Creek Preserve and joining in and sponsoring the community's wonderful Pioneer Days celebration."
Lake Wales officials were happy to partner with ADS to locate the facility in their community, according to City Manager James Slaton.
"We believe this facility will bring opportunity, responsible business growth and prosperity to our region," Slaton said in the release.