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Bouncing back.

Penn Racquet Sports To Reopen Tennis Ball Manufacturing Plant at Jonesboro Industrial Park

EIGHT YEARS AGO, OFFICIALS at Penn Racquet Sports abandoned the company's tennis ball manufacturing plant in Jonesboro when business slowed.

But they kept the building at the Jonesboro Industrial Park, and city leaders kept the faith.

"We stayed in touch with them the whole time because they never relinquished the building," says Henry Jones, president of the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce. "They never cut the ties."

The tennis ball plant was built in 1976. However, when Penn lost the contracts to manufacture balls for other companies, the Jonesboro operation became unnecessary. The plant was closed in 1984.

Two years ago, the tennis ball business bounced back. Executives at Penn Racquet Sports, an operating unit of GenCorp Polymer Products, were faced with a dilemma: expand their plant in Phoenix or reopen the plant in Jonesboro.

Jones, other city leaders and the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission went to work.

They flew to Phoenix and sold those at Penn Racquet Sports on Jonesboro -- again.

"They came back for the same reasons they first opened here -- a good work force," Jones says. "And they had good trained workers who had previously trained at the plant. Plus, it's a good point of distribution since Memphis is the distribution center. Of course, they already had the facility."

Gregg Weida, president of Penn Racquet Sports, and James Marlen president of GenCorp Polymer Products announced at a ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 30 that Penn would reopen a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art tennis ball manufac-turing plant in Jonesboro.

The plant will be expanded slightly on its 23-acre site in the industrial park. It will begin operation in 1993 and employ about 150 people in the production of tennis balls for the U.S. and international markets.

Gencorp Polymer Products is the chemical and plastics business of GenCorp. Its operating units produce wall coverings, fabricated plastics, latex coatings and adhesives, and Penn racquet ports products.

Penn Racquet Sports, which has headquarters in Phoenix, also has a tennis ball manufacturing plant in Mullingar, Ireland.

The Jonesboro plant "will give us additional capacity to focus on our core tennis ball business and the opportunity to continue the significant growth that we have experienced in the tennis ball market over the past five years," Marlen said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We are looking forward to opening our facility in Jonesboro and becoming an important partner in the community."

"We looked at several options as far as expanding our manufacturing capabilities and made the decision to return to Jonesboro," says Carol Helderlein, a public relations representative for Penn. "We had had good relationships with the community before, with the regulatory agencies and with Arkansas State University."

The announcement of Penn's return capped a busy -- and successful -- two-month period for Jonesboro's industrial recruitment team.

A week before the news from Penn officials, those at Trailmobile Inc. announced plans for a 200,000-SF facility to be built in the Craighead Technical Park. Trailmobile is a subsidiary of Gemala Trailer Corp. of Chicago.

The company will manufacture 30 fleet trailers a day and employ 250 people when the Jonesboro plant opens in spring 1993.

Also, executives at Ringier America Inc., a printing company, unveiled plans for a $60 million expansion of its facility in the Jonesboro Industrial Park. The expansion will result in 200 new jobs. Ringier already employs 550.

"Over the last six years, we've had a pretty successful run at attracting industry," Jones says. "At one point, we were having a major announcement as much as once a quarter."
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas; Penn Racquet Sports to manufacture tennis balls again
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 2, 1992
Words:596
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