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A successful plan at Friant

Members of the Suffolk and Portsmouth divisions of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce got a look at a Suffolk success story this week, as they toured the Friant & Associates facility in the CenterPoint multimodal industrial development.

Friant, a manufacturer of office furniture and equipment, opened its Suffolk facility about 16 months ago with just 10 employees, Scott Bloyd, vice president of East Coast operations, told a small group of business and community leaders during a tour on Thursday.

Since then, employment at the plant has grown to about 110 people working portions of two shifts. There are plans for that number to grow to 160 or so, and Bloyd said Friant is already ahead of its intended benchmarks on the way to that number.

The opening of the Suffolk location has given Friant an East Coast presence that allows shipping in as little as two days to a market that sometimes waited as much as nine days to receive goods from one of the company’s three West Coast facilities, Bloyd said.

That’s the kind of testimonial Suffolk economic development officials and the CenterPoint developers want to be sure to get in print.

In fact, a CenterPoint official said during the tour that activity on the property, which stretches between Route 58 and Kenyon Road, has been increasing. With $20 million in infrastructure improvements to date, the industrial development is now an enticing place for companies that are looking for a place to build their East Coast manufacturing and distribution centers.

Suffolk, according to CenterPoint’s Tony Beck, gives companies access to about 110 million people within a 10-hour drive. And the city’s proximity to the port and to rail access makes it even more desirable.

The desirability has led Ace Hardware, Nexcom and Friant to open facilities and Emser Tile to begin construction on its own huge warehousing and distribution center at CenterPoint. And there are hints in a recent site map of the CenterPoint property of at least one other unnamed company that has expressed interest.

So there was good reason for all the positive vibes at Friant this week. Of course, nobody was talking about traffic jams on Route 58, but city officials believe their plan to widen a portion of Route 58 will solve many of those problems. Call us skeptical-but-hopeful.

Either way, it’s nothing but good news to hear about a company that comes to Suffolk and finds that its plan is a success. We’re glad to know Friant has had such an experience.