MORRILTON — A Vietnam-based company announced Thursday it will spend $5 million to start a furniture factory at a vacant Arkansas plant and hire 75 workers.
Vinh Long makes home-furnishing products and plans to use a former Bosch factory in Morrilton as its new site. Morrilton is about 50 miles northwest of Little Rock. The factory will produce storage furniture and kitchen cabinets for stores in North America.
Vietnam’s ambassador, Nguyen Quoc Cuong, was on hand for a ceremony in the large, empty factory. He credited former President Bill Clinton with normalizing relations with Vietnam in 1995, which he said led to $26 billion in trade between the nations last year.
"Our message from Vietnam to the United States is we are ready to open our market to more U.S. products," the ambassador said.
Gov. Mike Beebe said Vinh Long could have located anywhere in the U.S. but found the incentives and workforce in Arkansas attractive.
"Arkansas is ready to respond to the needs of business and industry," Beebe said.
The state kicked in a variety of incentives, including an income tax credit of 2 percent of total payroll for five years, sales tax refunds on materials and equipment and training assistance. The company is also getting a $300,000 grant to help pay for upgrading the factory.
Morrilton has a community college, and in nearby Russellville, Arkansas Tech has a training institute. Local officials said both schools are efficient at getting workers trained quickly for a new industry.
The plant will operate as Vinh Long-Arkansas Ltd., and the company plans to start hiring in the spring, with production beginning next summer.
The furniture will be made with a combination of natural fiber and industrial materials. Company officials said Thursday that Arkansas is a good location because it has a sustainable supply of raw materials.
Morrilton Mayor Stuart Nelson said he’s eager to see the plant open.
"There’s nothing that makes a mayor feel any worse than an empty (factory) parking lot," he said.
Morrilton’s 6,800 residents have seen their share of economic upheaval. The factory Vinh Long is taking over had been operated by Bosch, where it made components for audio speakers from 2006 until it shuttered in 2011. About 140 workers lost their jobs.
In 1999, the city’s two largest employers — Levi Strauss Co. and Arrow Automotive Industries, which together employed 1,000 people — closed within an eight-day span. Bosch opened in the former Arrow plant, which is now to be home to Vinh Long.
Within a few years, about 70 percent of those jobs were replaced by new employers who came to the Conway County community.
Vinh Long plans to have 75 people working within three years, after which it plans to increase its workforce from 10 percent to 20 percent annually for the following three years as production increases.