Nebraska-based Chief Buildings is opening a $22 million manufacturing facility in Lancaster County.
A subsidiary of Chief Industries, the leading family-owned metal construction manufacturer, will open a facility at Lancaster Business Park that will create more than 100 well-paying industrial jobs over the next five years.
The announcement was made Wednesday, January 12 at a press conference at the Lancaster County Administration Building.
DJ Eihusen, Chairman, CEO and President of Chief Industries, compared choosing Lancaster as the location for his third manufacturing plant to pulling a dusty dart board out of the closet, hanging it on the wall and to throw darts at him.
“We had the opportunity to go around and meet other states and representatives, all very professional, kind and generous with their time as well,” he said.
But after visiting Lancaster in September, Eihusen said the dartboard had been worked out.
“We really walked away saying, ‘It’s not a matter of duty, but wouldn’t we? We were incredibly impressed,” Eihusen said.
They will move into the vacant 104,500 square foot Valmet building at 992 Quality Drive. The building has been empty for more than three years.
Jamie Gilbert, director of the Lancaster County Department of Economic Development, called Chief Buildings the type of business every community wants.
County Chiefs, along with the I-77 Alliance and the SC Department of Commerce, have been working with Chief Industries since September to lure its construction division here. Before the official announcement was made, county leaders had called it Project Arrowhead.
“We quickly realized this was the company we were looking for in Lancaster County. When you go out and recruit companies, you’re looking for a company that obviously creates good jobs in your community and also big investments, but will be a good corporate citizen,” Gilbert said.
“We have some great businesses in Lancaster County, but it’s not often that you come across a business and realize from the start how special that business is. We achieved it with Chief,” Gilbert said, noting that he and Lancaster County Council Chairman Steve Harper traveled to Nebraska in mid-November to tour Chief’s facilities there.
Harper said Chief has a reputation for building personal relationships with customers, suppliers, contractors and their workers. The company also forges deep ties within its respective communities.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to say that when they hire their initial workforce 10 years later, many of those employees will still be there. You can’t say that for many companies,” Harper said.
The company will initially create 58 jobs, most of which will pay around $23 an hour. Chief’s local workforce will grow to 102 employees by 2027.
“Each time a new business moves into this area, it reinforces the story that this is a great place to do business,” said Steven Pearce, president and CEO of the ‘I-77 Covenant. The alliance includes Lancaster, Chester, Fairfield, Richland and York counties.
Belonging to the family
Chief Industries is privately owned by the Eihusen family and is headquartered in Grand Island, Neb.
It has seven divisions and approximately 1,400 employees, but its manufacturing bases are in Nebraska and Rensselaer, Ind.
It was started in 1954 by Virgil Eihusen, who owned a small construction company that built family homes. It expanded into the manufacture of grain silos and in the mid-1960s branched out into the manufacture of metal buildings. DJ Eihusen is the grandson of Virgil Eihusen.
The company sells its products to a network of 400 builders across the country and constructs more than 1,000 buildings per year.
“We are absolutely thrilled. I know it’s an overused word, but it really fits. As we were talking about this project, it brings us a lot of anticipation about the brand new future,” Eihusen said.
“One thing is for sure, the last two years for all of us have been incredibly stressful. It has been difficult because of COVID,” he said. “The fact that we can watch this and focus on something positive is refreshing.”
The chief’s buildings are not garden sheds. They specialize in industrial and commercial metal buildings. Currently, Chief Buildings has more than 375 construction projects underway in South Carolina that total 14,000 tons of steel and nearly 5 million square feet.
Its location in Lancaster will provide Chief Buildings within a 500 mile radius.
“It’s interesting that we build buildings and we bought a building. And it’s not a cheap building, by the way,” Eihusen said.
On 22 acres, the former Valmet building was built in 2008. Chief Industries purchased the property on December 28 for $8 million.
“The reason we did this was to get to market faster. A new build would have taken us well over two years,” Eihusen said.
Dave Koubek is president and general manager of the company’s Chief Buildings division.
He noted that in reviewing company records from 2007, Lancaster was one of three sites in the Carolinas under consideration for a possible manufacturing plant before the Great Recession.
“Fifteen years later, we have come full circle to be in Lancaster. I think it’s a testament to that state,” he said.
Koubek said the company is already ordering manufacturing equipment and hopes to have it installed by mid-summer.
“We will start looking to hire staff probably in July and early August and train them,” Koubek said.
Chief Building is also looking for manufacturing managers, supervisors and other key positions.
“If we’re lucky, we’ll start releasing some products by September and October. We’re going to get bigger as we go from there,” Koubek said.
Individuals interested in learning more about Chief Buildings should visit the company’s website, https://chiefbuildings.com/.
“We’ve already dubbed this our home away from home and are ready to get started,” Eihusen said.
Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at 803-339-6869.