East Coast plant could double in size over time

SANTA ROSA -- Natural prepared foods maker Amy's Kitchen plans to open a $63 million, 700-employee production plant in Greenville, S.C., in January 2012, according to an announcement today by South Carolina officials.

News of the Santa Rosa-based company's plans to purchase a 125,000-square-foot former Sara Lee bakery in Upstate South Carolina and outfit it for East Coast production surfaced in late March. At that time, Amy's Kitchen made a long-term commitment to a large southwest Santa Rosa facility amid consolidation of certain California operations.

The existing facility and "positive business environment" in South Carolina at the state and local level contributed to the decision, according to Andy Berliner, chief executive officer.

"We are pleased to move forward with our plans to locate a new facility in South Carolina, allowing us to expand production capacity and more easily and efficiently reach customers and markets all along the East Coast," he said in a statement.

The purchase of the former bakery and nearby land to accommodate expansion to 250,000 square feet is set to close escrow next week, according to Mark Levin of CNB Ventures in Chicago. He's a former North Bay commercial real estate broker who has been representing Amy's Kitchen in its site search in the Southeast in the past two years. Stump Organization is representing the sellers.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called the decision a "major economic development win."

"Our administration continues to work daily on making sure South Carolina has the competitive business climate that attracts investments like this one," she said.

Proactive economic-development efforts paid off by attracting Amy's, according to H.G. “Butch” Kirven Jr., chairman of Greenville County Council and a director of the Greenville Area Development Corporation.

"They could have gone other places, but chose this area because of the available facilities, good workforce, and the excellent support provided by our extended economic development team, from local to state level," he said.

Amy's Kitchen, founded 23 years ago, has expanded production to Oregon and England in the past few years.

A formal welcome for Amy's Kitchen is planned for June in Greenville. Hiring will start this summer (company employment link). The plant would have up to 700 employees in the next six years.

Currently, the company employs about 1,400 in Santa Rosa, Oregon and the United Kingdom. Annual revenue is roughly $300 million and have been growing at more than 10 percent a year.