By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP —
As the sun’s rays reflected brilliantly off Wendell August’s newly completed building, Gov. Tom Corbett told an audience Tuesday the weather was designed for the event.
“It had to be this way,’’ Corbett said. “We’re celebrating a company clearly that has literally risen from the ashes.’’
Corbett was on hand for the formal unveiling of the metal giftware company’s $8 million complex. Devastated by an accidental fire on March 6, 2010, at its original Grove City location, the business built its new store, office and production center on Route 208 in Springfield Township with the help of a $4 million state grant.
Beginning construction in March, West Middlesex contractor Wessex Corp. was able to finish the job at a breakneck speed.
Traveling abroad to promote Pennsylvania, Corbett said he continually bestowed Wendell August merchandise to officials in Brazil, Chile and other countries to promote what Pennsylvania has to offer.
“You make memories that last a lifetime,’’ Corbett said.
Comprising 52,000 square feet, the building was a good investment for the state, he said, as it backed a private development.
“I believe it’s the business people who provide the jobs – not the government,’’ Corbett said.
A few moments later a snip of the scissors cut the ribbon marking the end of Wendell August’s long journey back from what could have been oblivion. Will Knecht, president and owner of the company, noted during the ceremony other locations tried to lure the business away from Mercer County.
Cheap land, cheap real estate and cheap buildings were all offered to entice the business away. But Knecht said he wanted to keep the business close to its Grove City roots. The company was founded by Wendell McMinn August, who moved the business to Grove City in 1932. The Knecht family bought the company in 1978.
“Our hearts will forever be in Grove City,’’ he said.
On hand for the event was George and Nancy Rodgers, owners of the Grove City Agway store. The couple said Wendell August has strong significance to the greater Grove City community. The Grove City factory was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places until it was destroyed.
“It’s kind of like they’re the mascot for the town,’’ George said.
With the help of company workers and local officials, the company was able to resume production within five days of the fire at a temporary location and established its office at another site.
Employing 110, Wendell August workers were on hand for the event to participate in the company’s re-emergence. In the days after the fire Adam Post, an employee in the dye cutting department, said he and others sifted in the debris to salvage what they could.
“It was like an archeological dig,’’ he said.
This isn’t just another building with no emotion attached to it, Post said. Rather, it was something that pulled the community together for a common goal.
“It’s a sense of belonging,’’ he added.
Producing goods such as Christmas ornaments, jewelry and purses, the company has steadily increased its product line to gain new niches in the giftware industry.
While it has no American competition, Wendell August has to compete with other businesses based in cheap labor countries of China and India. But Knecht said his company did have an edge against others.
“We’ll compete with the power of the American spirit,’’ he said.