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A $1 million federal grant will lead to an expansion of the Durham Co. operation at the Houston Industrial Park. Construction of a 9,000 square foot addition to the firm’s north plant will begin soon.

Doug Russell, the firm’s president, said Wednesday the project also will lead to the installation of additional equipment. Durham operates two facilities at the park, including the 40,000 square foot building that is targeted for expansion by Gentry Construction Co. of Houston following a bid opening. The company, whose headquarters is in Lebanon and makes electrical enclosure boxes, moved to Houston about 14 years ago and employs about 135. The total investment for construction and equipment is about $1.5 million, said Ron Reed, the city’s economic development head.

Through the federal grant, the funds will pay for the needed improvements, and the Durham Co. will pay the city for the lease of the building and equipment. The move also creates a revolving fund for future economic needs in the community. The city earlier submitted paperwork to the federal Economic Development Administration’s Denver office, where it was approved. The final okay came from the agency’s Washington, D.C. office.

Russell said the expansion comes at a time when an additional line has been added to the firm’s product mix. “We’re looking to the future,” Russell explained. While the company has experienced some weakness in its residential business, the move will allow it to increase capacity as it continues to look at additional opportunities and integrates the new line into its Houston operation.

With the new product and improvement in the economy to levels previously seen by the firm, the net result could be as many as 40 jobs over the next year, Russell hopes.

A second paint line will be created in the north plant and specialized equipment used in the fabrication of sheet metal has arrived. Russell said a slow ramp up in production will initially occur.

Company has expanded more than once: The federal agency has been tapped before for economic development aid. In 1993, the city won a $1 million grant that allowed for the community to purchase the former Brown Shoe Co. building on South Sam Houston Blvd. and complete an industrial speculative building that was later occupied by the Durham Company’s first plant.

The Brown Shoe Co. building was later sold to GAMO, whose national distribution center locates there. Those proceeds were used for additional needs at the park. Along the way, a new building was constructed and it houses a counter top manufacturer.

In 2000, the city won a $964,000 grant that brought Houston Sportswear to the industrial park from a building at the fairgrounds, allowing Durham to expand its original facility and construct the 40,000 square foot Durham north plant. In all, Durham’s operations cover about 115,000 square feet. It also has 275 workers at Lebanon and another 75 at New Bedford, Mass.

Another tenant at the industrial park is Opportunity Sheltered Industries, the county’s sheltered workshop.

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