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Hillphoenix breaks grounds on 500,000-square-foot facility

CONYERS -- Hillphoenix, a refrigeration company with a history that goes back over two decades in Conyers, broke ground on a new facility Thursday, half a mile from its current location.

Hillphoenix is constructing a 500,000-square-foot facility at the corner of Gees Mill and Sigman roads. The new facility allows the company to consolidate its operations, which now take place in three locations in Conyers and one in Covington.

Of the three existing buildings in Conyers, two are leased, and leases will not be renewed next year, said Trey Cown, vice president and general manager of Hillphoenix. The company will retain the one other location at 709 Sigman Road and the location in Covington because it owns the buildings and can use the space for storage and some manufacturing.

Hillphoenix is the leading producer of refrigeration products for North America, supplying both refrigeration systems and cases to grocery chains such as Publix, as well as retail businesses such as Target and Walmart.

"You see our products every day," said Bill Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Hillphoenix, at a reception at the Georgia International Horse Park on Thursday to celebrate the groundbreaking.

Johnson said it became apparent with the remarkable growth in the company that it needed a new location.

"We've tripled in size in the last five years," he said.

The Conyers location is the headquarters for the company, which has 11 locations in the United States, one in Mexico and one in Denmark. Hillphoenix in Conyers employs more than 900 people, almost a third of the 3,000-plus employee base for the company.

Cown said employees will move to the new location, and should the company continue to grow, positions in manufacturing, engineering and support personnel will be added.

"This does set us up for future growth," said Cown.

The new facility will allow the walk-in cooler division and the refrigeration and power systems division to be housed in the same location. The company will also add a design center and showroom and will be expanding its research and development area and learning center.

Cown said Hillphoenix's parent company, Dover, is investing more than $33 million for a 15-year build-to-suit lease, with the option of three five-year renewals, for the project.

"We could be here for 30 years," Cown said.

Cown said several factors weighed in the decision to choose Conyers as the location to expand. Most notably, the 52-acre site is "pad-ready," he said, meaning the development of the land had already taken place. The first step in the project is pouring a concrete slab, which Cown expects to take place in the next few weeks, weather permitting.

Cown said Rockdale County offered "pretty substantial tax incentives" over the next 10 years in property tax abatements. Hillphoenix also negotiated with Snapping Shoals EMC for more competitive utility rates.

Completed road improvements at the intersection of Gees Mill and Sigman roads also aided in the decision to expand in Conyers, Cown said, and Rockdale County is continuing to work with the state Department of Transportation to obtain grants to upgrade roads at Gees Mill Road and Old Covington Highway.

Road improvements assist in allowing easier access for employees going to and from work, Cown said.

At the ribbon-cutting reception, Johnson praised the city of Conyers and Rockdale County for their cooperation.

"It was important that we got those types of commitments," Johnson said.

The Rockdale County School System will also incorporate courses designed to train students in skills required to build Hillphoenix products, Cown said. The courses will be offered at the Rockdale Career Academy.

"It will give the students more opportunities for potential jobs and give the company more opportunities to bring in skilled employees," Cown said.

Cown, a Newton High School graduate who has worked with Hillphoenix since 1995, said the new facility will further the company's efforts to build more energy-efficient products and shift to natural refrigerants.

"It allows us to be more efficient in our manufacturing, and it will be a really nice work environment for the employees and allow us to meet our sustainability goals and reduce our carbon footprint," he said.

The roots of Hillphoenix extend back to the Phoenix refrigeration company, opened in Conyers in 1988. The company merged with Hill refrigeration, from New Jersey, in 1994 and became Hillphoenix.

Cown said the company has thrived because of strong customer service and innovations in technology.

"(Our success is due to) our 'customer-centic' approach and our continuing investment in advanced technology for the refrigeration industry," he said.