A group watched as cinderblock-sized hunks of gum inched along a conveyer belt before being pressed into sheets and sent down the line. There was mint in the air — a lot of it — and the unaccustomed eyes of visitors watered with the scent of Wrigley’s gum.
Made up of local business owners, community leaders and members of the media, the group got a rare glimpse Wednesday into the inner workings of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company’s Flowery Branch facility.
Parent company, Mars Inc., invited them in order to detail an upcoming expansion that will mean 155 new jobs for the area. The occasion included a ribbon cutting ceremony and full-blown tour.
Sporting special shoes, hard hats and hair nets, the visitors followed guides through a maze of machines that mixed, rolled and wrapped the product.
The facility — which has produced such popular gums as Juicy Fruit, Extra and 5 — has seen much change since first opening in 1971, including an expansion in 2006 that added 200 new jobs and a merger with Mars Inc. in 2008.
And now, the big news is an expansion that will mean high-wage manufacturing jobs for 155 locals. The positions, which will be added over two years, are being created to support additional production of ORBIT, the company’s largest gum brand in the U.S., and EXCEL, Canada’s leading gum brand.
As the tour continued, various guides took turns at a microphone, describing the whole process. “Gum is mixed, then it is sheeted,” one guide said. “We really crank out a lot of chewing gum.”
How much chewing gum exactly?
Forty-nine million sticks of gum every 24 hours, according to Blake Barron, manufacturing manager.
The plant has 70 different recipes for gum, which are produced using a mixture of machine and manual labor. On Wednesday morning, the touring group watched workers make Wrigley’s 5 Cobalt gum from start to finish — blue slabs of gum being flattened into thin ribbons, scored, conditioned, then wrapped and packaged for shipment.
The upcoming expansion is a result of production being moved from the Wrigley plant in Toronto, which will close in March 2016.
The Flowery Branch plant currently employs 670 associates.
“This is an excellent day,” said Wrigley North America President Casey Keller, adding that the local plant is “the best gum production facility in the world.”
Keller and other company leaders ceremoniously cut a ribbon in front of a new ORBIT production line. He gave a brief speech, as did others, like Tom Croteau, deputy commissioner of global commerce for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
“It’s really something special that this place has now employed generations of Hall County residents,” Croteau said.
Factory Director Jim FitzGerald said the company’s growth was assisted by the state’s Department of Economic Development and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
“Wrigley has been part of the Georgia community for more than 40 years. We continue to support the community with job creation and economic development by expanding our factory’s sugarfree gum production,” FitzGerald said. “We’re happy to have worked in partnership with the state to add this capacity to our facility.”
Gov. Nathan Deal released a statement saying that he appreciates “this company’s corporate culture and enthusiasm for its products. It is clear that Mars Inc. continues to succeed in Georgia, which speaks volumes about our skilled workforce. We look forward to its continued growth.”