By Steven Collins
CIRCLEVILLE— The spotlight was on Circleville Wednesday as Sofidel held it’s official opening and ribbon cutting at their new facility on the south side of the city.
Hundreds of people were in attendance, many from outside both central Ohio and the United States. Sofidel, an Italian company that specializes in making tissue products, has subsidiaries in 13 countries including the United States now with more than 6,000 total employees. Locally, about $400 million has been invested and there are currently 300 jobs available at the facility, with future growth expected to raise that number up to 700.
According to information provided by Sofidel on the plant, the Circleville plant is an integrated facility that incorporates a paper mill, where pulp is transformed into paper, a converting plant that produces the finished product, and a state-of-the-art warehousing facility. The plant has a total production capacity of 140,000 tons a year. Sofidel chose the 280-acre site in Circleville based on its accessibility to underground water sources, reliable and affordable utilities (natural gas and electricity), a skilled workforce and intermodal transportation systems.
Several of the economic development agencies had their opportunity to speak at the podium including Kenny McDonald, president and chief economic officer of Columbus 2020, a regional economic development agency, Ryan Scribner, economic development director for Pickaway Progress Partnership (P3), Pickaway County’s economic development entity, Luigi Lazzareschi, CEO of the Sofidel Group, and Brian Lenihan, acting executive director of Select USA.
“This is an unbelievable honor to be standing here,” McDonald said. “This is an example of how when people come together they breakdown barriers and unbelievable things can be overcome and thousands of lives can be changed. To me, that is what local trade and investment is all about.”
Many of those who spoke thanked their partners in the project at the local, state and federal levels, including the Pickaway County Commissioners, Pickaway County Engineer Chris Mullins, Circleville Mayor Don McIlroy and the Circleville City Council.
“For those of you from the local area, thank you. You’ve welcomed the company, you’ve welcomed the investment, and everyone made sacrifices to make this possible,” McDonald said.
Lazzareschi said it was an exciting afternoon for Sofidel, noting this is the largest factory in tissue production in the United States.
“Today is a very important day — a wonderful day for Sofidel. It’s a milestone in the history of our company,” he said. “We present a new benchmark in tissue production and we are very proud to say that.”
Lazzareschi said he feels the United States is “keen on entrepreneurship”, citing it’s been 35 years since he was in school in the United States.
“A lot of our success in the United States is dependent on this plant,” he said. “A lot of this is because we know we can rely on the support of the institutions and local community with a strong and deeply rooted work culture — a distinctive trait of this country’s culture.”
“We have a strong belief in values, work, commitment and humility,” Lazzareschi continued. “We are here today because we believe in this great country and we want to grow in this market.”
Lazzareschi said technology is changing and they need to continue to innovate.
“We live in a fast-changing world,” he said. “Phenomena like globalization and digitalization have changed our lives and method of producing, distribution and consuming goods. At Sofidel, we work to meet the needs of these players of this new areas by carefully looking around us and especially to the future.”
Lazzareschi said to meet the challenges of the future requires commitment and courage.
“We can’t win in todays complex world without partnerships based on shared targets and values,” he said. “That’s why at Sofidel we work to have long relationships built on trust and openness.”
Lazzareschi said life at the factory started Wednesday and the plant has “big potential” for the future.
“This plant officially starts it’s life today and it has big potential as you have seen, with lots of space,” he said. “It can expand in the future to be more than double the size it is today. There may be some easy days and some difficult days. Today, we can write another great page in Sofidel’s history —a page about well done work, strong commitment, economics, and men and women working together for a better world.”
Glen Richardson, managing director for advanced manufacturing and aerospace at JobsOhio, said before the site was just “numbers on paper”, but coming to the plant puts it in perspective.
“It was just three short years ago we were heavily engaged in negotiation and discussion, and back then this was just numbers on paper,” he said. “Well, here we sit today with an investment approaching $400 million and a 1.7 million square-foot facility with the hope and promise of 700 jobs and over $25 million in payroll. Seeing this facility puts it in perspective. Welcome to your Circleville home.”
Richardson also presented Sofidel with a proclamation from Ohio Governor John Kasich and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.
“We commend those who are involved in this project for your support in this effort and that this paper plant will be a catalyst for Sofidel’s continued growth,” Richardson read. “Congratulations on your opening and your many years of success.”
Scribner said there are a lot of characters in local government, having worked with them all over Ohio, but that in Pickaway County is special in that regard.
“I’ve seen all different types and you run into all types of characters in local government, and let me tell you something, we have something very special in Pickaway County and that’s tremendous local leadership,” he said. “I can honestly say that if not for their leadership we wouldn’t be here today.”
Scribner called on the Commissioners, The Pickaway County Engineer Logan Elm School District, The City of Circleville and the Pickaway Township Trustees.
“It was a monumental effort by a lot of different people,” he said.
Scribner, who admitted they thought they didn’t have a chance to bring the project to Circleville, shared the story of his visit to Italy, having Sofidel leadership visit, and the phone call when they notified him that they had chosen Circleville.
“I’ll never forget our first meeting with Luigi in his headquarters in Northern Italy in 2015,” he said. “I remember hearing candidly that we were a little late. Another site and another state had been settled on for the solution to this problem and maybe our time would be better spent on another endeavor. He graciously listened as we talked about the great state of Ohio and all it had to offer, specifically central Ohio and a little community just south of there that was hungry for growth and had a great pedigree. We know how to make things down here.”
Scribner said he left Italy that day thinking that there was no chance Circleville would win the project.
“I still didn’t really believe it when a few short weeks after that visit to Italy Luigi was standing in the bed of my pickup truck looking out over the cornfield here in Circleville Ohio,” he said. “It was a cool moment, but I didn’t think we’d really have a chance.”
Scribner said he didn’t even feel Circleville had a chance after months of problem solving and additional visits.
“It wasn’t until the moment I was on a conference call, after months of back and forth, where Luigi finally uttered the words ‘we will come’,” he said. “What he doesn’t know is that I had to mute my phone because I was dancing and jumping around the office like a madman. It wasn’t just the euphoria of winning. Economic development is very competitive and we want to win. Our community has been through a tough time if you look through the last couple of decades, and frankly we’re a little more accustomed to plant closures than we are to grand openings.”
Scribner said they’ve learned a lot from the project, falling back on baseball terminology.
“We’ve learned that we need to just keep swinging,” he said. “We strike out so many times as a community trying to rebuild itself. Economic development is so competitive and you strike out almost every time, but it feels good when you connect.”
Scrbiner concluded by saying that Circleville has so much to offer and they’re proud that Sofidel chose Circleville to build the plant.
“We have an amazing community with great people. We have great leadership and we have tremendous potential to do great things,” he said. “We’re thankful to Sofidel for their investment in our Community. Luigi, we congratulate you, your family, and your colleagues for today and wish you many years of success here in Pickaway County.”
After the ceremony, local leadership spoke about the event, calling Sofidel’s opening and the facility “impressive.”
“This is obviously a great day for Pickaway County and the Circleville area,” Brian Stewart, Pickaway County Commissioner, said. “I’m thrilled with the huge increase in new jobs and the excitement we’ve seen here. All eyes in the state are on our community today. We’re thrilled to have Sofidel as a new member of our community. When you take the tour, you realize this is now the crown jewel of their facilities and it’s their most hi-tech facility in the world and we have it right here in Circleville.”
Congressman Steve Stivers also called the facility impressive.
“This was awesome,” he said. “This is great for Circleville, Pickaway County, the region and great for the Buckeye state. I’m excited to hear the Italian anthem and it’s not the last time we’ll hear it in Pickaway County. Just to see these giant two ton rolls of paper and know they take it and process it into the finished product. This is the most advanced plant in the world and it’s a huge investment in our future, but it’s a huge bunch of jobs and they’re good paying jobs. I’m excited for it.”
McIrloy shared his thoughts on the facility and called it awesome.
“What it’s done is taking the RCA and the GE’s and the psyche that we can’t bring in new plants and we can,” he said. “A lot of success is happening right now and I’m so pleased to see this come together. It’s an amazing plant, an amazing company, and I’m looking forward to phase two and the additional employees.”
Following the ceremony, Scribner said it’s time to reflect.
“What goes into bringing something like this to fruition, not just my work but all the local partners, company and contractors, this is no small undertaking,” he said. “It’s been running 110 miles per hour for the last three years trying to get this going. To get to today, I catch my breath, reflect and smile, and see people who have been apart of it all along the journey.”
Scribner said after the day of reflection, for him, it’s back to work on Thursday.
“We’ve got more potential to be realized in Pickaway County,” he said. “We’ve got good things going on from north to south.”