Bus maker the Wrights Group is to take over the site of the former JTI tobacco plant at Lisnafillan, Balymena in a multi-million pound deal the company has confirmed.
The firm, which is headquartered in the town, has exchanged contracts and will take over the 100 acre site from mid-2017 as the last JTI operations are moved to mainland Europe.
Commenting on the announcement, Wrights Group Chairman and CEO Mark Nodder said saids it presented the firm with a vital opportunity for growth.
“Our current operations in Galgorm have become somewhat ‘landlocked’ in recent years, as substantial growth across the various parts of our business has progressively taken up all the land that we have owned,” he said.
“The imminent closure of the JTI facility has presented us with an opportunity to secure a substantial site, which will give us the additional space and operational flexibility we require to ensure that our future growth and development plans are not hampered by real estate constraints.”
Steven Francey, Wrights Group MD, added: “It is too early to outline specific plans for the Lisnafillan facility.
“However, securing the site for future use will allow us to look at a range of options, which could potentially include Advanced Engineering and R&D facilities that will help keep our products at the leading edge of, what is, a fast changing public transportation industry.
“We would naturally hope that in the medium to long term our investment will create additional employment opportunities within a number of our business areas.”
Wrights Group, which this year celebrates the 70th anniversary of Robert Wright Coachworks setting up in business, has a long association with the town of Ballymena, but increasing business abroad has raised concerns about production movingcloser to new markets.
The firm is involved in an assembly plant in Chennai, India and also has other arrangements where buses are assembled aboard for other markets.
However this deal is set to further strengthen the company’s ties with its home base.
“In recent years, a good deal of the company’s growth has been in international markets which has required varying degrees of overseas investment,” said Mr Nodder.
“Yet Ballymena has always remained the heart and soul of our operations. The purchase of the Lisnafillan site further underlines our continuing and long term commitment to the town, its people and its local economy.”
Welcoming the purchase, JTI UK’s Engineering Director Greg McKinley, said; “Since the announcement of our factory closure, we have been exploring all opportunities to find a suitable buyer for our factory site. We are very pleased that Wrights Group has agreed to purchase the site and we look forward to working closely with them to complete the sale by mid 2017.”