Bear & Son Cutlery in Jacksonville plans to take a stab at expanding production and adding more jobs.
The knife manufacturer expects to buy equipment and hire around 25 people over the next two years to meet growing customer demand. Also, the company is seeking tax abatements from the city of Jacksonville to help cover the expansion costs.
Ken Griffey, president and owner of Bear & Son, said his company will begin purchasing and installing new equipment in the next few months. Griffey said he’d like hiring to start much sooner.
“I’d take 10 people right now if we could find them,” Griffey said.
The company currently has more than 80 full-time and part-time workers.
Griffey said the company is trying to meet growing demand. The new equipment, which will include a machine to heat-treat blades and another to buff them, are needed to speed up the production process, Griffey said.
“Business has had an uptick and we’re trying to take care of more customers,” Griffey said.
Griffey attributes part of Bear & Son's success to the spread of its brand name over the 17 years since the company began. Bear & Son produces about 1,200 knives a day. The company makes a variety of self-defense and utilitarian blades that are sold around the world, from butterfly knives to hunting and folding pocket knives.
Griffey added that there are fewer U.S.-based competitors in the knife manufacturing industry in recent years.
Just last month, Queen Cutlery Company, a longtime Pennsylvania manufacturer, announced on its website that it had ceased production and furloughed its employees because of insufficient revenue.
Fewer competitors means more customers for Bear & Son.
“Business in general is just very strong right now ... we had our largest backlog of orders ever last year that we’re trying now to meet,” Griffey said.
To help cover expansion costs, the company is working with the Calhoun County Economic Development Council to create a tax abatement proposal for the city of Jacksonville. The proposal would abate city sales, use, and property taxes, except those for schools, on the equipment purchases for a five-year period, said Don Hopper, executive director of the development council.
Hopper said he expects to present the proposal to the Jacksonville City Council at its meeting later this month.
Hopper said it's typical for cities to abate some taxes to help companies expand.
“It’s a way to help companies hire more,” Hopper said. “It’s a way of saying thank you for staying here and growing here and investing in the community.”
This is not Bear & Son's first expansion or desire for tax abatements. The company has expanded four times so far. As part of its last expansion in 2014, the company received a $20,000 property tax break and a $12,000 sales tax break from the city for a 10-year period.
Hopper noted that company expansions in any given year account for around 80 percent of new jobs in the state. Last year, Calhoun County had around 10 expansions and about $50 million worth of investment from existing companies, he said.