County cash for jobs program makes debut




Finney County agreed Monday to pay Westerman Inc., doing business as Palmer Manufacturing and Tank in Garden City, $1,000 for every new job it creates as part of a planned company expansion over the next few years.

According to the memorandum of understanding with Westerman Inc., the Finney County Commission agrees to pay cash for each new job created over the next five years up to a total amount not to exceed $100,000. Palmer would receive the full amount if 100 jobs are created.

The county wasted little time in beginning to use its Job Creation Incentive Program that was approved in July, which provides cash for jobs brought in by new businesses or through expanding existing businesses.

Using the incentive program, the county will pay Westerman annually for jobs created the previous year. The company must provide the county with an annual report by June 30 each year that spells out each new job created. A job can only be counted once to receive the $1,000 incentive.

Money for incentives would come from the joint economic development fund that the city and county contribute to each year and contains around $800,000, and would be limited by available funds.

Lona DuVall, Finney County Economic Development Corp. president, said Westerman anticipates creating 100 to 120 jobs over the next 18 to 24 months, with an average annual pay of around $35,000.

"It's a great opportunity for us to grow some good jobs. These are better-paying jobs than a lot of the average that we see come in here. And if we can find houses for them, we'll be in really good shape," DuVall said.

Based in Ohio, Westerman, a subsidiary of Worthington Industries, another Ohio company, makes tanks and pressure vessels for the oil and gas, nuclear and marine markets. Worthington's pressure cylinder segment acquired Palmer Manufacturing and Tank in April and has been working on a business integration of Palmer the past few months.

Situated on 52 acres at 2814 W. Jones Ave., Palmer employs about 200 people in making steel and fiberglass tanks and processing equipment for the oil and gas industry, as well as custom manufactured fiberglass tanks for agricultural, chemical and general industrial applications. The company was founded in 1971.

DuVall said that after the Palmer acquisition, Westerman officials told the FCEDC that the company was competing with the rest of Worthington's family of companies for site expansions.

Two key items helped secure the local expansion, DuVall said. First, the ability to provide on-the-job training through Garden City Community College, and second, the ability to offer a cash incentive instead of a tax abatement, something that other communities offered but didn't appeal to the company.

"It's actually very exciting that we won this project because they had plenty of options for other places where they could grow the operation. They chose to do so in Garden City," DuVall said. "Even though they're concerned about finding enough workers, they felt better about the opportunity to grow here than in other locations."

Attempts to contact officials with Westerman and Worthington were unsuccessful. In an April news story, Gary Rano, director of energy operations for Worthington, said Palmer's service and quality and good business reputation drew Worthington to Garden City. He also said Palmer has a good workforce and product reputation, a view that was reinforced by a substantial number of customer surveys.

The company plans to add both capacity and employees to serve existing customers in the oil and gas industry. DuVall said the company plans to begin expanding "immediately" and has talked about adding an extra shift, producing more product and earning more market share for their business.

The commission approved the agreement, subject to a positive review by the county's legal counsel.

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