New Jersey-based NFI Industries has moved into the former Handy Hardware Building.
East Mississippi Business Development Corporation (EMBDC) Chairman Bob Luke made the announcement of the company's arrival in Meridian on Wednesday. NFI has placed its sign outside the former Handy Hardware Building.
"It is NFI and they are out of Cherry Hills, New Jersey," Luke said. "They are a respected national logistics firm. There was a job fair at MCC (Meridian Community College) and it was said that Lowe's was coming, but that was just speculation. NFI represents a lot of different carriers."
Luke said NFI is currently operational and plans are for it to employ up to 45 warehouse and logistical workers.
"It's a logistical warehouse, so their numbers will go up or down; but we were told about 45 people," he said.
Luke explained how the pieces fell together to bring NFI to Meridian and close a chapter on Lauderdale County's relationship with Handy Hardware.
Handy Hardware opened a distribution center in 2009 in the 467,000 square-foot building located off Interstate 20/59. They employed 109 workers for the plant ,but because of a recession, company officials shut down operations at the end of 2012 and laid off all 109 workers.
Handy Hardware declared bankruptcy and the building was foreclosed by Capital One Bank.
"Starting in November (2014), I got a phone call from a guy named Paul (J.) Danko, who is a broker for Savills Studley Real Estate out of Baltimore (Md.)," Luke said. "Danko was brokering this deal for Capital One. The building had been in foreclosure and the marketing of the building had proved unsuccessful. Danko told me of a potential tenant, but that they did not wish to own the building.
"He (Danko) felt that this would be a good industry for our community, and if we could figure out things on how to purchase the building, Capital One would get us a good price."
Luke said he went to the Meridian City Council and the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, however neither had the funds to make the purchase. But, they did express support for the project if Luke was able to find local investors.
However, Meridian had competition.
"Another city in the state had a building and their guy owned the building," Luke said. "Both cities had the demographics they (NFI) wanted. But NFI expressed they liked our building better and they had come to like Meridian better."
Luke said he tried to see if EMBDC could buy the building, and went to a bank and "almost got it done." NFI told him they needed a decision quickly.
"We didn't want to lose these jobs," Luke said. "So I rounded up some community-minded people to come buy the building, and that literally is what happened. People were willing to take a risk and that's 1Meridian (LLC). It worked and they raised the money needed to buy it. "Everyone worked together for the greater good of the community. Today, 1Meridian (LLC) owns the building. All the leases are signed; there was no sweet heart deal. Nothing was scurrilous about this. The land lease with the county is still there. The group will go back to the Board of Supervisors to go over the terms of the land lease at a later date. The land lease is the same as it was with Handy Hardware."
NFI agreed to lease 450,000 square feet of the building from 1Meridian LLC. The remaining 17,000 square feet will be controlled by the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors for office space.
Luke said NFI's Meridian operation will conduct business in a four-state area, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida.
District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey was elated to see the community come together and make the deal for the Handy Hardware property happen.
"Real pleased that the bank was able to sell the Handy Hardware Building so that some new jobs could be put out there," Florey said. "I was also real pleased that it was some local investors that stepped up in order to locate this new business here."
Family-owned since 1932, NFI generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue and employees nearly 7,800 associates, according to its corporate website.
NFI operates globally with more than 22 million square feet of warehouse and distribution space. Its fleet consists of more than 2,000 tractors and 8,200 trailers. Its business lines include transportation, warehousing, intermodal, brokerage, global real estate, trailer storage and solar services.