Update meeting with city officials set for today
By Jordyn Grzelewski
City officials today will get an update on the progress of a project about which some community members have raised concerns.
Mitchell Joseph, CEO of Joseph Co. International, will meet with city officials this morning to discuss the $20 million chill-can factory his company is building on North Lane Avenue on the city’s East Side.
Some community members have raised questions about the project over the last several months after seeing little progress at the site.
Joseph said construction has been temporarily on hold while his company worked to meet demand for Joseph Co.’s self-chilling can. The technology allows a drink to be chilled in less than a minute by turning a knob on the can’s bottom.
This past spring, the first self-chilling cans hit the retail market in select 7-Eleven stores. The first-of-its-kind technology debuted with the Fizzics sparkling cold brew coffee drinks, which Joseph said led to increased demand for his product.
“We had an influx of beverage companies that said, ‘We want chill cans,’” he said.
As the Youngstown facility was not yet ready to start production, Joseph said the company opted to meet this demand by ramping up production at plants in California and England.
“We had entered into several beverage contracts out here in California. ... They weren’t willing to wait for Youngstown to be finished,” he said. “We had to stop everything we were doing and retrofit the California plant.”
Joseph said the company reallocated its resources to retrofit those facilities, but having at least one major contract in place will allow the company to get back to working on the Youngstown plant.
Still, Joseph said, getting the Youngstown facility – which will be the base of the company’s East Coast operations – ready for production is the company’s “top priority right now.”
Joseph Co. broke ground at the East Side site in November 2016. The chosen site is personal for Joseph: the Youngstown native’s great-grandfather founded and operated Star Bottling Co. there from 1921 to 1970. Joseph is the fourth generation of his family to work in the beverage industry.
As Joseph, a Youngstown State University graduate, was thinking of expanding his Irvine, Calif.-based business, he met with YSU President Jim Tressel, who encouraged him to look at options in the Youngstown area, according to Vindicator files.
The plans moved forward in fall 2016, when the city’s board of control approved a $1.5 million grant, and the city approved a 75-percent, 10-year real-estate tax abatement for the project. The abatement will save the company more than $300,000 over 10 years, according to Vindicator files.
Originally, Joseph Co. planned for the site to be in operation this year, but that time line has been pushed to 2019.
“We want to be finished with the third building and have distribution and light production done by the summer of 2019. That’s a fact. We have to,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to start some production and distribution in the summer of 2019.”
While the California plant can handle lower-volume orders, Joseph said the Youngstown factory will have a much larger capacity.
Eventually, the plan is to have eight buildings at the East Side site. Three will be used for production; two are done and Joseph said preparation is going on now to start building the third.
The company has previously said it will eventually employ more than 250 people at the Youngstown plant.
T. Sharon Woodberry, city director of community planning and economic development, said Joseph has been in communication with her office about some of the project delays and that at this point, the project is still on track to meet a 2021 deadline for the facility to be fully operational. She said the economic incentives from the city were used on the front end of the project, and those funds have been distributed. Buildings 1 and 2 were completed on time, and although Building 3 is behind schedule, she said the city is working with Joseph on that.
“We’ll be meeting with him to try to get a revised timeline and continue to work with him on getting the project finished,” she said. “We’ll continue to work with Mitchell, as long as the project continues to move forward.”
Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, who plans to attend today’s meeting with Joseph, also expressed optimism about the project.
“It’s definitely something the city needs, those jobs,” he said. “It’s definitely a priority, and I’m glad to see Mr. Joseph is sticking to his commitment to bring this technology” to Youngstown.