Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ribbon cutting latest plans for Rolando

By Billy Davis

Call it the coming plant that just won’t get here.

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Despite start-up delays that now stretch nearly a year, Rolando-Curtis Foods is just weeks away from opening its doors and employing its first workers, Panola County Supervisor Robert Avant predicted this week.

If and when it begins production, the Maryland-based food producer will be the tiny town’s sole industry, employing anywhere from 150 to 300 people to manufacture juices, baby formula and other products.

“We should have some trucks on site next week,” Avant said. “Two tractor-trailers with some of the equipment on them should be there Friday.”

Avant said a ribbon-cutting is planned at the plant site on Friday, August 24 following the date of August 15, when the equipment is expected to be delivered and installed.

The plant’s start-up date is nearing the one-year mark, when Avant convinced his board colleagues to transfer the former Dana property to Butler in order to entice the company to relocate.

Rolando CEO Roland Butler had said he would use the transferred property to secure a bank loan.

Several start-up dates have since come and gone, however, beginning in the fall of 2006 when Butler predicted an opening date in October.

Butler has repeatedly blamed delays on delivery of stainless steel machinery that will form the production lines. He told The Panolian in February that the transfer of ownership last summer delayed the ordering of the equipment, which would have been done earlier.  

Despite that delay, he told the newspaper that the equipment would be delivered “in the next week or so.”

In March, Avant said the coming production equipment had to be “reconfigured” at the factory in order to fulfill new food orders.

According to Avant, the latest delay was the cleanup of a well at the request of the Department of Environmental Quality.

“If Dana hadn’t left a mess, it would have been open,” Avant said.

Following the environmental cleanup, Avant told Crenshaw’s mayor and board of aldermen on June 5 that production would begin at Rolando in six weeks.

At the June 19 ribbon cutting at the new Longtown fire station, Butler told the assembled crowd that “trucks will be rolling next week.”

Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons, who has said encouraging words about Rolando over the past year, said Monday that he personally saw proof that Roland had secured a bank loan to purchase food production equipment, provide start-up capital and pay for renovations to the building.