published Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Old pajama factory to take on new role in the greater Chattanooga area's automotive industries

A historic Manchester, Tenn., factory that once produced pajamas, some even featuring superhero themes, is becoming home to an injection molding facility called Top Tenn LLC, to serve the region's automotive industries.

Eric Hamilton, Jeff Brunelle, Josh Ledbetter and a silent member of the partnership bring decades of experience in toolmaking, injection molding and mechanical and electrical engineering to the new venture.

Hamilton said the facility will create up to 50 jobs over the next two years. But first comes the task of converting a former 100,000-square-foot pajama factory into a high-tech plastic injection molding operation.

Water pipes were leaking, the heat and air conditioning didn't work, and the whole building was not properly powered to run injection molding machines, Hamilton said.

But the most important elements -- structure, walls, roofing -- are more than sound, he said.

"I think the building has a lot of character," he said, noting its sturdy walls are at least three bricks thick.

"We like the space, we like the building," he said. "You could not build this building today. It would take $7.8 million to replace it."

The group scouted all over Middle Tennessee for a building that fit its needs, but "once we saw the building, it was over immediately," he said.

Top Tenn's customers will come mostly from within Tennessee's automotive industry, though there are other operations that will become customers, too, he said.

"What we're going to bring to the table is our team," Hamilton said of his partners.

"All four of us, we're masters of what we do," he said. "That's what's going to be linked to our success."

Industrial Board of Coffee County Executive Director Ted Hackney said Top Tenn is a welcome addition.

Hackney said a photograph of the building from around 1936 shows it housed a "cut-and-sew" operation called Star Union. Most recently, it was home to the Pajama Corp of America. He said the building has been empty for more than 10 years but remains in good shape.

"Small employers are as important as large employers in the whole scheme of things," Hackney said. "We're very excited that he and his group saw fit to put together a program and plan to start a new business that will support our existing automotive suppliers."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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