Why would a French company bring a new manufacturing company with 90 jobs to Knox County? “We narrowed our focus on Corbin because there were two available buildings here that were suitable for our purposes. That was very important,” Euro Sticks President and owner Frédéric Debacker said. “It was also important for us to be along a strong main highway. I also must say that the efforts of the local economic director in Corbin was one of the key reason we felt this was the right place. He really convinced us this would be a good place to do business.”
Euro Sticks is now one of the world leaders in the production of beechwood ice cream and coffee-stir sticks, producing around 10 billion of them annually. The company is a major supplier in the U.S. for companies like Haagan Daz and Magnum Ice Cream. It announced plans earlier this month to locate a production facility in Corbin that will employ 90 people over a three-year period.
Debacker said on initial site visits to Corbin he was impressed by things like the strong school system, the local hospital, The Arena, shopping, dining and other things he did not initially expect in a community that officially only has a population of about 7,500 people.
“I just could not believe the kind of investments that had been made in a community of this size. That is impressive,” he said. “There is quite a bit more activity in Corbin than you would think for a community with the population it has.”
Euro Sticks has production facilities in France, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Romania. Debacker said the company’s market share in the U.S. has continued to grow, forcing a decision — continue to produce more of its produce in its current facilities and export, or make them locally for the U.S. market. Euro Sticks currently needs to supply about 10 percent more sticks each year than the year before.
Debacker said the company wants to get production underway as soon as possible in Corbin to fill the demand. “We are already at our capacity. We need to grow capacity,” he said. “We need an additional billion sticks just to supply the market. Even a month delay means hundreds of millions of sticks are late. So yes, we are in a hurry.”
Corbin Economic Development Director Bruce Carpenter said the company plans to hire workers in the fall and wants to be producing by the beginning of 2017.
Debacker said the company is already at work building and fitting its facility in the Southeast Kentucky Regional Business Park with the unique, proprietary machines needed to produce the sticks.
Carpenter said within the next month the Corbin Office of Economic Development would notify the public about job opportunities at the local Euro Sticks plant.
The company’s research eventually led Euro Sticks to focus on southeast Kentucky, which Debacker said has a fairly significant supply of beech trees. The beech wood is crucial because of its strength and lack of taste and odor.
Debacker’s decision to come to America started with a a summer of hard work with harvesting equipment and an encounter with a Kansas farmer. This experience impressed upon the 20-year-old visiting the United States from his native France.
Debacker said the farmer sold him on the idea that America would be a good place to do business.
“I had never done anything like that before, but he trusted me. He said, ‘yes, you can do it. Just do it,’” Debacker recalls. “After a few months of training on his farm, I came back to Europe and I told everyone these Americans just trust you and they make you better and I think I should do something in the U.S. one day based on that experience.”