Low taxes, good weather and a welcoming community all played a role in the decision to move S.S. White Technologies Inc. from New Jersey to Seminole, according to Rahul Shukla, president and CEO.
But the top reason the manufacturing firm relocated? “The No. 1 factor was Florida makes me happy,” Shukla said.
S.S. White cut the ribbon its new 90,000-square-foot headquarters, manufacturing, research and development facility at 8300 Sheen Drive Tuesday, as Pinellas County and Seminole officials officially welcomed the company to the area.
The company, which specializes in manufacturing aircraft, automotive and medical products, said it would create 125 new-to-Florida jobs by the end of this year with the jobs paying an average annual wage of $65,000, when it applied for tax rebates under the Qualified Target Industry program. If it creates all the jobs it promised, it could get up to $750,000 in tax rebates.
S.S. White currently employs 116 — 35 workers who came from the company’s former site in Piscataway, N.J., and 80 hired locally — and it is continuing to hire.
“We need more great manufacturing businesses in this state,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “It’s something we’re consistently looking for.”
Manufacturing is an essential part of the Pinellas County economy, and S.S. White is a leading innovator in its sector, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.
Shukla, a native of India, started working at S.S. White in a low-level factory job in 1973, two years after immigrating to the United States, and worked his way up the management chain. He bought the company for $6 million in 1988.
The company makes flexible shafts, or a device for transmitting rotary motion between two objects. There’s at least one S.S. White product in 98 percent of all airplanes. Subsidiaries in the U.S., United Kingdom and India make instruments used in orthopedic surgery to remove worn-out implants, power seats for most American and some Japanese cars, and aerospace parts.
Shukla first toured the Seminole site, a former laboratory and warehouse for eyewear maker Essilor of America, about three years ago. A related company, Sunflex Properties LLC, purchased the property in 2015 for $1.9 million, according to Pinellas County property records.
It took S.S. White two years to remodel the facility, including tearing down all the walls, before it moved 40 truckloads of machinery from New Jersey to the Seminole plant.
Ken Welch, chair of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, called the Tuesday ribbon-cutting “a celebration of innovation and vision and perseverance and the entrepreneurial spirit.”
“This is an American success story,” Welch said.