JONESBURG, Mo. — Under a bright summer morning sky with the steady hum of freeway traffic in the background, a handful of elected officials and CertainTeed Roofing employees stood in a half-circle with a collection of golden shovels in hand and ceremoniously planted dirt on a sapling’s roots.

The act didn’t last more than a minute, but the symbolism set the tone for the grand opening ceremony of CertainTeed’s new shingle manufacturing facility in June. It also solidified the company’s message that building in America matters now — and will continue to matter in the future, particularly in the roofing industry.

“Its roots, like our own, will be deep in the local soil for decades,” said Pierre-André de Chalendar, chairman and CEO of Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed’s parent company based in Europe.

“Sustainable, profitable growth in American manufacturing is not just a dream. It’s a living, breathing reality and its home, its roots and its future are right here,” he continued before a crowd of about 500 employees, select roofing contractors and government officials that attended the celebration.

“We are now a part of the present and the future of Jonesburg and nothing makes us more proud.”

The $100 million facility is packed with state-of-the-art machinery and computer technology that together will make shingle production safer, more efficient, and less harmful for the environment in terms of waste production. It’s the company’s first new plant on American soil dedicated to roofing since 1978, and produces CertainTeed’s signature Landmark shingles. The 60,000 square-foot facility sits adjacent to a 150,000 square-foot warehouse that opened in 2014.

The mammoth industrial campus and towering water tank emblazoned with the CertainTeed logo stands out to motorists along I-70 when compared to the surrounding farmland and a neighboring sawmill. Company officials say it’s part of a capital investment plan a decade in the making, and that Jonesburg will serve as a production and distribution hub for all of CertainTeed’s high-performance roofing products throughout America’s heartland for decades.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Now headquartered in Malvern, Pa., CertainTeed began in 1904 as a general roofing manufacturing company in St. Louis. The business grew and earned a strong reputation for consistent quality. In 1917 — long before rebranding was thought of as an important business practice — officials changed the name by contracting its commercial slogan, “Quality made Certain, satisfaction guaranTeed.”

Seeking diversified product lines, the company began a joint venture with Saint-Gobain in 1967 to manufacture and sell insulation in the United States. Solid vinyl siding and polymer products used for pipes and windows soon followed. Saint-Gobain obtained 57 percent of stock and took controlling interest of the company in 1976. In addition to roofing and siding, it now offers fence, decking, railing, trim, insulation, gypsum and ceiling products.

Now 350 years old, Saint-Gobain is one of the world’s largest and oldest building products companies. Under its umbrella, CertainTeed and its affiliates have more than 5,700 employees and more than 60 manufacturing facilities across North America that produced total sales approaching $3.3 billion in 2015.

Yet capturing a greater share of the American market has been elusive, and remains a long-term strategic goal, officials said.

“The U.S., as part of our overall revenue, is smaller than what I would like,” de Chalendar intimated in an exclusive interview with Roofing Contractor prior to the grand opening ceremony. Though he wouldn’t quantify his goals for improvement, de Chalendar said he views tremendous opportunities for growth across America, and that the Jonesburg facility is central to the company’s plans.

When CertainTeed Roofing President Tom Smith and his team first pitched the idea of building in the Midwest on the cusp of the Great Recession, de Chalendar said there was little hesitation as Saint-Gobain decision makers saw an investment in America as important. Despite the global perception that manufacturing in America is dying, increasing CertainTeed’s footprint in the heartland also fit a key component of Saint-Gobain’s successful business model — where 90 percent of what’s manufactured in a certain country is sold in that country.

“The majority of building materials we make don’t travel far,” de Chalendar said. “If you want to participate in the U.S. market, you have to produce in the U. S. And in our industry, it’s important to be completely in tune with the country and with our customers.”

While CertainTeed had the rims of the U.S. covered, Smith said there was a noticeable hole in the middle of the country that made them less competitive. Shipping shingles across the country from plants in Texas, Minnesota, Ohio and Louisiana became costly and left some roofing contractors without easy access to their products. Building in Missouri changes all of that.

“Roofing contractors are the heart and soul of everything we do and we have a great and loyal following,” Smith said prior to the ceremony. “This factory allows us to get to more roofing contractors as we grow our market share in the middle of the U.S., and to do the kinds of things we’ve done that have earned us such high praise and loyalty across the rest of the country.”

Big Impact, Small Town

While the direct benefit to roofing contractors remains to be seen, CertainTeed’s presence has had an unmistakable influence on the local economy.

Jonesburg is a town of less than 800 people that was hit hard when the economic downturn began in 2008. Its quaint collection of main street shops and businesses is still littered with vacancies as the recovery continues slowly in a largely agricultural area about an hour drive from St. Louis.

But it’s a place where people work hard and love their country. Homes with well-manicured lawns line all six major streets in the town center, and those without porch swings and American flags flying stand out.

“We’re a small town, but we have a lot of pride here,” said longtime Mayor Bob Sellenriek, who himself boasts of a 30-foot flagpole affixed to an old bulldozer facing the roadway in front of his home.

Plant Manager Mark Hyde said more than 80 of the 100 local jobs officials promised at the plant are filled, and additional hires are expected this year. CertianTeed anticipates the facility will spur the creation of about 400 more ancillary jobs in trucking, welding and maintenance services.

Sellenriek said his nephew is among the newly hired employees, and that residents have seen wages increase by up to $2 in some area jobs since the plant became operational earlier this year.

Conveniently nestled between a major railroad line and the crucial I-70 corridor that connects Kansas City to St. Louis, the town quickly emerged as a finalist from the more than two dozen locations CertainTeed officials and consultants scouted in the Midwest.

CertainTeed officials said they strongly considered Illinois, but ultimately found Missouri’s fiscally-conservative practices, consistent history of balanced budgets, and more-than-capable workforce an undeniable draw. 

Political leadership at the local and state levels also played a major role. The land where the plant now sits straddled the border between Montgomery and Warren counties, and securing it for development required cooperation from several government entities. That included the Missouri Department of Economic Development and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who personally got involved to help the communities reach a long-lasting annexation deal with lucrative tax benefits for all parties involved.

Jonesburg became a shining example of how his administration’s focus on bringing advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs to Missouri would have a lasting impact on the state’s future.

“And that’s exactly what I told Tom Smith … and several other company leaders when we first met in Jefferson City at the end of 2012,” Nixon told the crowd from a podium set up in the center of plant. “We knew that our balanced budgets, Triple-A credit rating, highly skilled workers, and commitment to competing on a global scale would provide a strong foundation for this company to build on its success.”

Sellenriek said CertainTeed will receive a 20-year tax break on the property, but that Jonesburg will still capture millions of dollars in new tax revenue — not bad for acres of former corn and soybean fields that barely generated $400 annually in local taxes in years past. And it may just be the beginning. The annexation deal included a large adjacent parcel that’s currently vacant, but may be attractive to other businesses now that CertainTeed established key utility lines and other infrastructure.

“I couldn’t believe anything like this would ever be here before, so you never know,” Sellenriek said, marveling at the sheer size of the facility and the high volume of shingle squares produced there. “Let’s hope it happens again.”

Still Innovating

Though another $100 million investment in roofing-material manufacturing isn’t currently in the company’s plans, CertainTeed continues to innovate in other ways. In the last six months alone, it announced multiple new partnerships and initiatives designed to improve its North American footprint.

In May, the company responded to the growing market demand for high-value metal roofing by acquiring the Matterhorn metal roofing brand from Michigan-based metal roofing manufacturer Quality Edge, Inc.

“We’ve noted, as have many, the growing importance of metal in the total roofing category, and finally there’s a metal shingle that looks fabulous,” Smith said. “Now we can bring a design element that’s a significant upgrade to metal shingles.”

The company is also increasing its public profile this year by expanding its involvement in season two of “Home Free,” a home-building competition television series on the Fox network hosted by celebrity contractor Mike Holmes and former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.

The new format focused on 11 contestants working with CertainTeed’s comprehensive line of building products to win a dream home for their personal heroes — including a wounded warrior, a firefighter and an organ donor.

Also this summer, CertainTeed announced a partnership with MetLoop, a new precision weather forecasting and alert system that has the potential to revolutionize the roofing industry. CertainTeed contractors now receive exclusive access to MetLoop’s technology at special discounted rates as part of the deal.

“In order to grow, one of our key focus points is on innovation,” said John Crowe, CertainTeed Corp.’s president and CEO. “With the CertainTeed team and support of the company, we’re really starting to build up and invest in our technical competence. We have some really strong capabilities and people in place to support our growth in the future that I’m really excited about.”