Federal Funds Help Growler
More than $400,000 in federal money will come to Robbins to help a military vehicle manufacturer, U.S. Rep Howard Coble announced Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved an application from Randolph Electric Membership Corp. for a grant and loan through its Rural Economic Development Program, Coble said.
A $300,000 grant will allow the town itself to buy the old Carolina Lace plant on Green Street, then lease it back to American Growler Inc.
The company is already busy converting the plant into a 50,000-square-foot facility to produce vehicles for the Marine Corps. Another $112,000 is in the form of a loan to Randolph Electric and will be passed through to American Growler to provide financing for working capital and equipment.
"This is obviously a shot in the arm for Robbins," Coble said. "Robbins is not unlike a lot of textile towns that have been beleaguered in recent years. Everybody is going to benefit from this. I want to add that I appreciate the way the Department of Agriculture worked closely with our staff on it.
"This is the kind of good news we always enjoy sending back to our district. They will start out with 40 or 50 employees, but everybody expects it will grow."
It is a big boost that will help open a manufacturing facility in Moore County that will build vehicles for the military, he said.
American Growler is relocating its business to Robbins from Ocala, Fla.
"It is exciting to see an old textile mill be retrofitted into a modern manufacturing facility," Coble said. "This exciting, new venture will be a big boost to the economy in the Robbins area."
More Good News
The announcement is one more bit of good news for economically hard-hit Robbins, according to Mayor Mickey Brown.
It comes just as the town is about to start working with a coaching team from the N.C. Rural Center in a test program to try out and demonstrate strategies for economic revival. STEP (Small Town Economic Prosperity) starts Monday with the first visit from a coach. The program will go on for three years.
Other recent good news is that next month, the 2006 Mid-Atlantic Star Party (MASP) will again bring hundreds of astronomers to a hilltop near town. Robbins can look also to the stars and its clear skies as a natural resource to be protected and exploited for investment and growth, according to Brown.
All are answers to many a humble petition, according to Brown.
"It's amazing," Brown said. "It is just another answer to our prayers."
Two American Growler owners have made frequent visits to Town Hall, joining in with the NC STEP support team or meeting with the town board.
"I know of no company better," Brown said. "Bill Crisp and Bill Crews are dedicated to Robbins and this area."
That 40-year-old textile plant has stood vacant six years. Conversion of the building required extensive renovation, including installing compressed air, a paint booth and sandblasting area, office refurbishing and other changes to accommodate Growler production needs. Crews are hard at work.
Brown went out to see the plant and watch the changes under way as American Growler gets ready to start production.
"The visits I have had over there, it is so heartfelt to see people over there working and see the place come alive again," he said. "That is good news. That is the gospel."
Growlers are smaller fighting vehicles, able to mount a steep ramp and enter the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey -- the latest in air-mobility, a fixed-wing, tilt-rotor aircraft that can hover like a helicopter, but also fly at the higher speeds of conventional planes.
One type of Growler can mount a French-made 120 mm rifled mortar. Another will carry Marines, and perhaps tow an ammunition trailer made by Mercedes-Benz.
They are not without controversy.
Some have called the Growler nothing more than a retooled Jeep, since the first ones (built for civilian use) were made partly from salvaged pieces of the M151 Jeep. The military phased out that Jeep in the 1980s, in some measure as a result of rollover accidents.
As a result, Growlers have been redesigned to give them a "lower center of gravity," according to Robert Work, a retired Marine officer and military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
"Narrow vehicles cause rollover problems," Work has said. "Any time you have a small vehicle that is relatively narrow, you are going to have potential mobility problems."
But the Marine Corps needed a narrow vehicle to fit into the Osprey and be part of a new strategy under which beach assaults can be avoided entirely. Marines, ammunition, and weapons can go directly from ship to battle, part of the corps' new expeditionary fire support system (EFSS).
Under that tactic, Marines will fly V-22s deep into hostile territory and engage in combat autonomously, without the backing of rear echelons. They can deploy from a ship and, rather than assault the beach, fly aboard V-22s all the way from ship deck to inland combat zone, bypassing enemy coastal defenses.
Growlers will go with them, just as Jeeps did in previous wars. They are not the same.
A Growler may be similar in appearance to a Jeep, but none of the critical systems are 'old Jeep parts' -- and it is misleading to portray the Growler as 'a rebuilt Jeep, according to Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Landis.
"The engine, transmission, differentials, drive line, electrical and cooling systems, suspension, brakes and all other critical components are current technology parts from some of the top manufacturers in these areas," Landis has said.
Ospreys are smaller, lighter and faster than other transport aircraft. Originally designed to carry 24 troops, they've been reconfigured and the matching Growlers redesigned to work as a team. That team will go on the field this fall, as the first Growlers get ready to roll from Robbins.
The availability of skilled labor and facilities, continuing education opportunities at Sandhills Community College and grants from the state and the county were among the reasons American Growler picked Robbins, company president Bill Crisp said.
The company previously received a $25,000 matching grant from the One North Carolina Fund which county commissioners matched.
"We are appreciative of all of the assistance we have received from local, state and federal officials with this project," Crisp said. "We are proud to be a part of the resurgence in the industrial base of Robbins and western Moore County."
American Growler hopes to produce some 400 vehicles for the Marine Corps during the length of the contract, which is worth about $45 million to the company, Crisp said.
American Growler hopes to begin production at the Robbins plant in about a month and have their entire operation located in Moore County by the end of the year.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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