Master-Bilt partially reverses earlier position, will continue limited production at New Albany plant

Google Earth view of the Master-Bilt Ten Oaks facility
September 7th, 2020     Featured Local Business & Economy

One of the county’s oldest and largest industries, Master-Bilt, has said it will resume limited production despite announcing closure of the business earlier this year.

The parent company for Master-Bilt refrigeration units announced recently that the company plans to continue manufacturing one equipment line at the New Albany plant. The company had said it was closing the New Albany facility earlier this year, after changing ownership.

A press release stated, “Refrigerated Solutions Group (‘RSG’), an industry leader in refrigerated equipment and service, recently decided to continue production of the Master-Bilt® BEM/BEL Endless Glass Door Merchandiser Series at the RSG manufacturing facility located in New Albany, Mississippi.”

The company cited strong customer demand for this product with its features. “This will result in maintaining a more focused manufacturing footprint in the New Albany facility (where earlier this year the difficult decision was made to discontinue operations completely),” the release said.

Mayor Tim Kent met with new president Aaron Brown and said he felt optimistic after that meeting.

Job possibilities under limited production not yet known

Brown said company officials have to make several management and operational decisions later in September and will provide more information about jobs and other plans then.

Master-Bilt was one of the first industries to be recruited here after World War II through the Balance Agriculture With Industry program. The purpose was to help rural areas move from being primarily agricultural to more manufacturing-based economies.

Union County Board of Supervisors as then constituted gave Master-Bilt a long-term lease with purchase at the conclusion as an incentive to locate here, but that was so long ago that present day officials are uncertain about parts of it. They believe it was a 99-year lease after which the company would own the property.

Rent is a very nominal amount – $1,875 per year — since  the original bond was paid off long ago – and at that time there was no restriction in the agreement that the industry maintain a minimum number of jobs, as is often the case today.

At the time the property was owned by the Third Supervisor’s District of Union County because this was before Union County switched to the unit system of government. Each supervisor’s district was effectively its own fiefdom.

What can be done with the property is complicated by that original agreement and subsequent events.

While the county apparently still owns the original approximately 13 acres that comprise the central, older buildings, Standex added new buildings around the original, which Standex apparently owned before selling the company. It may be that parts of some buildings belong to the county while other parts of the structures are owned by recent purchaser, Ten Oaks Group. The Standex part of the property is about 21 acres.

This uncertainty about ownership probably may never become an issue as long as jobs are being provided in Union County.

NEMiss.news Master Bilt refrigeration

A commercial refrigerator built by Master-Bilt.

When the sale was announced recently, city and state economic development officials were willing to work with the company about creating a package to move all the manufacturing from Wisconsin to New Albany. That remains a possibility, if a remote one, but the state officials are still interested in helping the company prosper.

County officials stressed they are doing everything they possibly can to keep and bring jobs to Union County.

“The RSG leadership team has worked diligently to strengthen the overall customer experience by listening to the voice of our customers, employees, and the local community. As a result, we made the decision to continue production of the Endless Merchandiser and to keep operating a portion of the New Albany plant,” said John Ioannou, chairman of RSG.  “Our goal is to become a healthier long-term partner and I am proud of the decisions our team has made and am pleased with the outcome for all of our stakeholders,” Ioannou concluded.

“The workforce and community support in New Albany is strong and we are excited to be able to continue with strategically focused operations at this facility,” noted Dan Hinkle, RSG Chief Commercial Officer.  “The New Albany plant will give us the best, most efficient footprint for production of this product line resulting in a win-win-win for our customers, employees and the community,” stated Hinkle.

The Master-Bilt® BEM/BEL Endless Merchandiser Series is used in a variety of small footprint retail and convenience stores.  The Endless series display coolers and freezers help retail operators increase sales and efficiency.

Previous owner Standex Refrigerated Solutions Group (RSG) sold its Master-Bilt and Nor-Lake refrigeration businesses to Ten Oaks Group, a family office focused exclusively on corporate divestitures, several months ago for a reported $11 million for the two.

Refrigerated Solutions Group has over 150 years of combined history between the Master-Bilt® and Nor-Lake® brands.  Master-Bilt, founded in 1938, offers a complete line of coolers, freezers and refrigeration for commercial Foodservice applications.  Master-Bilt’s markets of specialty include institutional settings, restaurants, small footprint retail and convenience stores.  For more information on Master-Bilt’s full product line please visit www.master-bilt.com.

Nor-Lake, founded in 1947, manufactures quality products to serve a wide range of Foodservice and Scientific refrigeration needs.  To better align with customer needs, Nor-Lake maintains separate Foodservice and Scientific divisions.  From reach-ins and prep equipment to environmental walk-in rooms, Nor-Lake offers a wide selection of commercial refrigeration products that can be found at www.norlake.com.

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