Preferring Southern Nevada’s workforce over Arizona’s, tent maker plants stakes in Henderson

Technicians trim a piece of fabric on a seam welder at Creative Tent International July 30, 2014.

They’ve backed off from building a tent-covered tent manufacturing plant, but owners of Creative Tent International are up and running in Henderson after ditching Arizona.

The company — which sells commercial tents in more than 60 countries for banquets, tennis court coverings, helicopter hangars and other uses — recently moved its manufacturing base from Lake Havasu City, a small resort town on the Colorado River, to a rented warehouse near Gibson and Warm Springs roads.

Management brought just a handful of workers from western Arizona and hired dozens of people here.

Creative Tent’s arrival, backed with the promise of state tax incentives, won’t make the valley a dominant manufacturing hub. Its representatives said they like Southern Nevada because of its low cost of living, low taxes and, compared with Lake Havasu, more-educated workforce.

The company expects to book $20 million in sales this year, down from a peak of $25 million, though it hopes to get up to $35 million by 2016, CEO Ean Reves said.

Its welders, machinists, sewers and other laborers make tents that are 20 to 200 feet wide and run hundreds of feet long in some cases; weigh 20,000 pounds or more; cost an average $250,000; come with glass doors, heating and air-conditioning systems, lighting and solar panels; and can withstand snow and 120-mph winds.

Creative Tent International

Workers stretch out a piece of fabric at Creative Tent International July 30, 2014. Launch slideshow »

“There’s endless application (for the tents), and we’re just barely penetrating a lot of these markets,” Reves said.

The company’s owners, husband-and-wife team Bob Stafford and Carol Fontius, bought an empty 8-acre parcel on Galleria Drive east of Boulder Highway in late 2012 for their new headquarters. The Henderson City Council granted them a zoning change in February 2013, and in their tax-incentive application to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, they said they’d break ground that June on a two-building, 115,000-square-foot campus. The project was slated to cost $3.5 million and be completed last September.

However, the construction process was “cumbersome,” Stafford said, and his group realized it would be faster and cheaper to rent a facility.

“It just made sense for the business,” he said.

The still-empty project site — acquired from Nevada State Bank, which had foreclosed on the land — has had a sign with a rendering of Creative Tent’s proposal: Two tent-covered buildings facing each other, one L-shaped and the other a reverse L-shape.

Stafford has been in the tent-making business since the late 1970s, and about a decade ago, he set up shop in Lake Havasu. He started manufacturing there mainly because of its cheap real estate and labor costs, Reves said. The company expanded rapidly, bolstered by military and other government contracts, and outgrew its hometown.

Lake Havasu, a city of 53,000, is heavy on retirees and light on educated workers. Some 27 percent of residents are at least 65 years old, compared with 14 percent nationally, and just 15 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

All told, the labor pool there is limited and seems stagnant, as the same workers bounce from company to company, according to Reves.

“We couldn’t recruit quality people there,” Stafford said.

Stafford and Fontius were familiar with the valley, as they flew through McCarran International Airport when coming and going from Lake Havasu, about 150 miles south of Las Vegas. They moved their corporate offices to a building off Horizon Ridge Parkway about a year ago and shifted their manufacturing operations here in late June.

Last summer, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development granted the company’s request for roughly $123,000 in tax incentives. On its application, Creative Tent said it expected to employ 76 people locally by the end of 2013, with average manufacturing wages of $19 per hour; would grow revenue 25 percent a year; and would spend $1.04 million on equipment.

The company, however, has fallen short of its initial employment projections, and according to GOED spokeswoman Jennifer Cooper, it has not yet received the tax incentives.

Creative Tent had about 65 workers in Lake Havasu. Without guaranteeing their jobs, the company offered them a chance to reapply for work in Henderson, Reves said. It has about 50 employees here, and just seven came from Arizona.

Meanwhile, management hasn’t ruled out building the headquarters on Galleria. According to Reves, the company plans to “get that project going again” in the next 1 1/2 years.

Tags: Business