Reliable opens new plant in S.C.

Major sprinkler manufacturer moves for trained workers
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Saturday, July 1, 2006

LIBERTY, S.C.--After 88 years in New York, Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Company has pulled up some of its Empire State roots and moved its manufacturing operation to a newly built 306,000 square-foot manufacturing facility here.
In this town of 3,000, Reliable has access to a ready-made, trained labor force it simply could not find in metropolitan New York. And, Reliable's arrival here has been heralded locally for bringing jobs and economic investment to a part of the country that's suffered major job losses over the last decade as local textile manufacturers have moved offshore.
"We expect to have all equipment and personnel moved in by June 30," said Kevin Fee, executive vice president of Reliable.
Fee and his two brothers, Frank J Fee, III, president, and Michael Fee, vice president of marketing and operations, are the principal owners of Reliable, which was founded in 1918 by their Irish immigrant grandfather, Frank Fee. In those days, a large conglomerate sprinkler manufacturer refused to supply Fee and some other contractors with sprinklers, so he began manufacturing his own.
Now one of the largest sprinkler manufacturers in the world, Reliable has global sales and distribution facilities across the United States, and in England and China.
Reliable’s corporate headquarters, and roughly 40 executive management, finance, administration and accounting employees, will move to Elmsford, N.Y. where they will be co-located with 35 employees who work at Reliable’s Northeast regional sales and distribution facility there.
The private company does not release financial information, but the company web site said that in 2000 Reliable shipped to "more than 5,000 customers located in 60 countries." Kevin Fee did say that Reliable doubled its business in each of the two five-year periods between 1995 and 2005.
"The primary reason for leaving New York is the lack of labor force to replace our retiring employees," Fee said.
The Fees considered several areas, including upstate New York, for relocation, but were dissuaded by "labor costs, the costs of doing business, higher tax rates in New York, higher energy costs, everything across the board."
In South Carolina, "They gave us grants and tax incentives as well as invaluable assistance in the recruitment and training and development of a new labor force." (See accompanying story on page 25 about training the labor force.)
Reliable brought 60 workers down from New York, and in mid-May had already hired 530 new technical and professional employees, including hourly workers, managers, drafting, engineers, technicians and supervisors.
"Reliable's business conditions are very healthy. Plans are to continue our growth pattern, which will require the hiring of additional personnel in all facets of manufacturing and engineering and product development," Fee said.