LAFAYETTE, Ga. — A bad car crash gave birth to the business that's moving into the former Bluebird school bus manufacturing plant.
Ronald Phillips, a Rossville tool-and-die man, lost a leg in a car accident nearly four decades ago. So his son, Randy, sat his father down and convinced him they should work out of the basement of the family's Mission Ridge Road home, which would make life easier for the injured man.
"If he didn't want to work that day, he didn't work," Randy Phillips said of the work-from-home arrangement. "If I seen him stressed, I sent him upstairs."
That injury was the impetus in 1974 for Ronald Phillips and his sons Randy and Mark to form Phillips Bros. Machine Co.
At a Tuesday afternoon news conference that attracted top Walker County officials, the once low-profile, family-run business announced plans to hire 40 more workers alongside its 60 existing employees at the 271,000-square-foot plant that previously housed the Blue Bird Corp. Blue Bird, once one of Walker County's largest employers, closed its school bus factory here in 2010.
"We're going to add all the jobs we can," Randy Phillips said. "The sky's the limit."
The company, which now is spread among four Rossville-area buildings, hopes to finish moving into the Bluebird plant by the end of July.
About a month after it settles in, it will start looking for 40 new machinists, welders, computer numerical control (CNC) operators, and laborers. The worker mix is about 90 percent skilled and 10 percent unskilled, Phillips said, with jobs starting at $10 to $12 an hour.
"Some of my guys make over $25 [an hour]," he added.
The machining, welding and fabrication business makes such products as the arms that pick up trash cans attached to Heil-brand garbage trucks assembled in Fort Payne, Ala. Phillips also makes parts for the Alstom generator plant in Chattanooga and for Dover Equipment.
Phillips Bros. has roughly 50,000 square feet of space at its Rossville facilities, which Phillips said is "too small." With some 200,000 additional square feet in its new digs, the company plans to add a third shift.
The larger space provides room for new equipment.
Phillips Bros. just bought a 14-ton press that can stamp 12-foot-long metal bars into different shapes. Phillips said he's already had businesses he supplies suggest that he put in an even larger press that could be used for such things as stamping out garbage truck frames.
The chain drive that pulled equipment along the school bus assembly line still is installed in the plant, and Phillips Bros. plans to use it.
"That's one of the selling points," Plant Manager Michael Phillips said.
Phillips Bros. also has a plasma cutter on order to cut steel into patterns before it's milled.
"We subcontract that out now," Randy Phillips said.
Bringing that in house should allow Phillips Bros. to get orders out faster, he said.
"The main object is not to let our customers down," he said.
As an enticement to get Phillips Bros. to buy the plant, which had been vacant for more than a year, the Walker County Development Authority issued some $3 million in bonds to buy the facility from Bluebird.
The county doesn't pay anything out of pocket; Phillips Bros. will make the mortgage payments. But by issuing the bonds, the county keeps the plant off the property tax rolls for 10 years.
"We do that in order to offer tax ... incentives," said Larry Brooks, executive director of the Walker County Office of Economic Development, at Tuesday's news conference.
Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell said, "We've been working diligently with the development authority ... to get this done, and we're just very pleased that this is happening."
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, described Randy Phillips as being modest about his business' accomplishments, and predicted it would continue to grow.
"We should all check back in a couple years for some greatness," Mullis said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.