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Kendallville plant plans tax break, 100 new jobs

A startup manufacturing operation is asking Kendallville officials for tax breaks on a $1.9 million investment projected to create 100 jobs in its first year.

Robert Frost, president and CEO of Wolfpack Chassis LLC, said the company will build chassis – or the supporting frames – for recreational vehicles and manufactured homes. The product line will include chassis with slide-out mechanisms.

“Our goal is to provide customers high-quality chassis at competitive prices, combined with unmatched delivery and customer service,” Frost said.

The business plan includes eventually moving into making chassis for cars, trucks and buses. The investors, who include seven silent partners, expect to invest more than $3 million in the operation over the next five years.

Frost, who lives in LaGrange, formed the company with one partner a year ago.

The company had been considering various locations in northern Indiana and southern Michigan before choosing the former Reliable Production Machining and Welding building at 800 Weston Ave., Kendallville.

“This building was really an ideal setup for what we wanted to do,” Frost said. City and county officials “put together a very attractive incentive package.”

Wolfpack is creating incentives of its own for workers. Employees would earn $22 an hour, on average, for jobs including engineering, welding and other skilled trades.

Hiring is expected to begin the last week of November. Job seekers may go to the factory to apply.

“We are pleased to see a company come in that pays that kind of wages,” said Jerry Kessler, president of the Kendallville Economic Development Advisory Committee.

Noble County reported a jobless rate of 8 percent in September, topping Indiana’s rate of 7.5 percent.

Frost has a varied background, including 20 years in the chassis industry and a stint working for Zimmer Holdings, an orthopedic devices manufacturer.

His résumé includes three years spent working in chassis technical development for Navistar International Corp. He left that job about six years ago, avoiding the painful exit that more recent Navistar employees have faced as the company moves production to a Chicago suburb, cutting about 1,400 local jobs.

“I saw the writing on the wall then,” Frost said.

Frost met Thursday with members of the Kendallville Economic Development Advisory Committee to outline his vision.

The advisory committee is recommending the project for approval, Kessler said.

Kendallville’s City Council is expected to vote on the issue Tuesday evening. If approved, Wolfpack’s savings could total more than $140,000, Kessler said.

Frost plans to attack a hefty to-do list if the tax breaks are approved.

The lease on the building has been negotiated, but he still needs to sign the contract. Then, they’ll start moving in equipment – some new and some being kept in storage units.

The experienced management team expects to begin hiring by the end of the month, with production on pace to begin by the end of December.

sslater@jg.net

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