"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is a proverbial phrase promoting a positive, can-do attitude. It's also what Mount Franklin Nutritionals has done for Sumter, said Mayor Joe McElveen on Wednesday, when the manufacturer had its official grand opening in Live Oak Industrial Park before about 60 local and state officials and others.
In March 2016, the former Au'some candy plant housed in the 100,000-square-foot facility at 2720 Southgate Drive abruptly closed because of bankruptcy, and about 60 remaining employees were suddenly let go.
Five months later - in August 2016 - Mount Franklin Foods, a food manufacturer based in El Paso, Texas, had arranged to come to Sumter to pick up some equipment that it had purchased from the former plant and take it back to headquarters.
However, in a short time, local and state economic development officials convinced them to actually stay and start a new operation in the existing facility.
The official industrial announcement of $10 million in capital investment and the creation of 225 jobs by Mount Franklin in Sumter County occurred Oct. 20, 2016.
Fast forward almost 12 months to the day, and on Wednesday, Mount Franklin President and CEO Gary Ricco and other corporate executives were in town for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony on the revamped facility.
"We are extremely happy to have you here," McElveen said. "You have taken the lemon we had and made it into lemonade for us. And we are most thankful for that."
Ricco, in his comments to the assembled crowd, said Mount Franklin Nutrionals - the official name of the company's Sumter facility - actually started production for customers Tuesday.
He said the operation currently has 30 employees to include the management team and mainline workers.
The plant will manufacture functional gummies - to include multivitamins, fiber, melatonin and protein - cough drops and organic fruit snacks, among other items.
"Simply put, we do confections with good stuff in them," Ricco said.
Ricco described the functional gummy category as growing extremely fast.
Five years ago in the U.S., total revenue in the category was $500 million, he said. Today, it's $2 billion and, according to projections, five years from now in 2022 it will be $5 billion, according to Ricco.
He said Mount Franklin is trying to get in early with the growing market, and it will be adding even more equipment to the Sumter plant to keep up with that growth rate.
Ricco complimented local and state economic development officials for allowing Sumter and South Carolina to have a pro-business environment, and the company plans to make the local operation "the premier functional gummy facility in the U.S. and create lots of jobs."
Plant Manager Brian Chapman said Mount Franklin will add likely about 12 to 15 more mainline jobs before the end of this year and is looking for material handlers, machine operators and quality technicians, among others.
If all goes well for the operation, Chapman said Mount Franklin could add about an additional 45 workers by June of next year with the addition of a second shift.
Chapman encouraged workers with FDA plant experience to apply.
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