HERMITAGE, Pa. – The Hermitage area of the Shenango Valley is seeing much growth in 2022, topped by the $30 million expansion project slated to get underway at Joy Cone and the new FedEx Ground distribution center nearby.
Joy Cone plans to build at least a 200,000-square-foot addition to its cookie manufacturing plant here, although the president and CEO of Joy Cone, David George, says design work on the project continues and the plant size could grow.
Manufacturing 3.5 billion cones at three sites, Joy Cone is recognized as the world’s largest producer of ice cream cones. The company also manufactures cookies, which are chopped up and distributed to ice cream manufacturers to make the specialty flavors.
George says the size of the ovens and ancillary equipment needed to manufacture the cookies is affecting the size of the project.
“We’re hoping to start excavation work here this fall. But it is looking like the actual building project won’t start until 2023,” George says.
Meanwhile, ground is being excavated for the 250,000-square-foot FedEx Ground distribution center to be built on a nearly 65-acre site on South Hermitage Road. Construction of the project, announced in March, is set to begin in early September.
The building will be operational in the summer of 2023, says FedEx spokesman David Westrick.
“The new facility will employ a mix of full- and part-time team members with specific staffing needs being determined closer to the opening date,” Westrick says. “The company also will contract for package pickup and delivery services with service provider businesses that hire locally for driver, helper, manager and other positions.”
Hermitage City Manager Gary Hinkson says although exact employee numbers have not been shared, he is sure that the number will be significant and important for the economic growth of the region.
The project site, near both interstates 80 and 376, should provide easy access to the FedEx Ground package center, both for delivery trucks and employees. A new traffic signal will be installed to ease congestion entering and leaving the plant on South Hermitage Road, a four-way intersection with the Tam O Shanter Golf Course.
Rod Wilt, executive director of Penn-Northwest Development Corp., says it’s hoped that most of the traffic off I-80 will use Industrial Drive, also known as Swamp Road, with the employees using Route 18.
During a meeting of the Hermitage Planning Commission, the developer of the FedEx site, Scannell Properties, reported that when it opens, some 250 employees’ vehicles would arrive during peak hours and during shift change and as many as 10 trucks per hour possibly sometime in the next decade.
“The site was chosen because of its ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers’ distribution centers and a strong local community workforce for recruiting employees,” Westrick says.
Joy Cone’s George agrees that the workforce is one reason his company continues to expand here. Joy Cone employs 800 between the cone plant and nearby cookie plant with the latest expansion expected to allow the company to gradually add 50- to 100 more employees.
“Our labor pool is very healthy here,” George says. “We’re able to staff appropriately. This has been a manufacturing beltway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. So people understand the 24-hour operation, shift work and they have the technical skills and mechanical skills that are necessary for any manufacturer. It’s a good-size labor force and a skilled labor pool.”
The cone plant opened in 1964 and has expanded several times since. The cookie plant opened in the fall of 2018. This will be its first expansion.
With the Joy Cone plants in the areas of state Route 18 and Lamor Road, the city of Hermitage plans a $1.73 million road expansion project in that area paid for with Transportation Infrastructure Investment Funds. That project remains in the planning phases and is expected to begin sometime in late 2023.
“We have a great relationship with the city of Hermitage,” George says. “They take care of their city and make sure everybody complies with the guidelines. But they have been really easy to work with and very supportive of us.”
Although by far the largest projects, FedEx and Joy Cone are not alone in expanding in Hermitage.
According to Hinkson, a 50,000-square-foot expansion was recently completed at Extreme Machine & Fabrication Inc.
A few stores also have opened, including a Hobby Lobby in the Hermitage Square Shopping Center in July. Harbor Freight opened earlier this year on North Hermitage Road.
And a new Dairy Queen is under construction on East State Street near Wick Avenue, Hinkson says.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SHENANGO VALLEY
Penn-Northwest’s Wilt says Rein Construction recently bought the former Sharon Tube mill. The president of the company, Paul O’Brien, has indicated to Wilt that his Brookfield, Ohio, construction company is in the process of renovating space there for lease or possible purchase.
“[The] Sharon Tube facility coming back online for a large, single tenant or some multitenant manufacturers would be just tremendous,” Wilt says.
Wilt laments the lack of manufacturing and warehouse space in the Mercer County area. Penn-Northwest has been trying to work toward the rehabilitation of brownfields and light manufacturing spaces, he says.
“We continue to work on Harrisburg to fund that Industrial Reuse Program and we’ve been successful here drawing down some EPA grant funds to help with environmental testing and remediation. So that really helps,” Wilt says.
Another recent industrial addition is BPI Minerals, which took over the Trinity South space in Greenville, Pa. The Pittsburgh-based company works primarily with steelmaking operations and refractories, bringing in scrap when a furnace is shut down and stripping the minerals from it. Then, those elements and chemicals are repackaged and resold.
Currently with 10 employees, BPI Minerals is expected to bring 20 to 30 employees on board by the end of the year, according to Wilt.
“It’s great to see one of our industrial sites being reused,” he says. “Hopefully they will spur some additional activity on our Trinity North site.”
Any such progress, however, awaits the release of the Trinity Industries South Plant property by the EPA.
Nearby, at the Greenville-Reynolds industrial park, Reynolds Services just added a 30,000-square-foot annex to its lithography line.
Other projects are on the horizon at the site. Two hardwood companies have been in contact with Penn-Northwest, Wilt says, as the supply chain for hardwood products, primarily plywood and chipboard industries, has been affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
There also is interest in the 206-acre site near exit 15 of Interstate 80 in Mercer. Wilt says there have been many inquiries about this property and requests to see the site, which has been considered for past development.
“We’re spending a lot of time with a lot of site tours and looking into various funding sources for potential companies,” Wilt says, adding 90% of economic development is working on something that does not come to fruition.