An Oldham family's dream to bring their global manufacturing business home has been realised signalling a "game-changing" chapter for both them and the industry.
J A Harrison's chairman, 81-year-old Alan Shepherd officially opened the company's new £2.8m state-of-the-art production hub on Chadderton's Greengate Industrial Estate which is sited on the very fields he played in as a youngster.
In an emotional unveiling – which welcomed industry professionals, customers, the Mayor of Oldham, Councillor Shadab Qumer and Oldham Council leader Jean Stretton – he said it was an immensely proud day for the family-run firm which is one of UK's biggest gasket and seal manufacturers supplying a host of industries around the world.
Their new contamination-free facility – which has already created 12 new jobs and is expected to generate at least 30 more over the next three years, alongside developing their own apprenticeship training scheme which has five newcomers under its wing and up to eight every year thereafter – has catapulted the firm onto a much bigger world stage and will ensure they can achieve what is deemed almost the impossible for many UK manufacturers and seriously compete with the likes of China and India on pricing.
With its ability to scale up at the new premises, scope to expand, storage ability and investment in new machinery they have "cut out the middle man" and are now set up to deal directly with major players in the aerospace, nuclear, oil and gas, pharmaceutical and food processing industries and the Ministry of Defence.
Alan said: "I am proud that we are here and I'm proud of the way we got here.
"We've put so much into the business over the years and Oldham has changed dramatically in the time we've been growing it.
"As a four-year-old child I played in a field where this building now stands. Today we're at the heart of a busy industrial estate surrounded by thriving businesses.
"I owe great thanks to my children Keith, Martin and Elaine for making it all possible. They worked tirelessly to make it happen and now it's a dream come true."
The family has spent months – and £1.4m – renovating the Greengate site after re-locating from Strangeways in Manchester.
The Shepherd family bought the company – which started out as a mill furnisher in 1900 – in 1940 after working there for 20 years and despite relocating to central Manchester before Strangeways, it was always their ambition to bring it to their hometown.
The original family members who worked there were involved in the manufacture of essential machinery components for the war effort's regional munitions factories to ensure the production of Lancaster Bombers.
Alan's son, Keith, aged 57, who is managing director, said "Management buyouts and two compulsory purchase orders later, finally the company is back home.
"Once a town full of chimneys and dependent on the textile industry, Oldham too has had to reinvent itself.
"The forward-thinking Oldham Council and its willingness to work closely with business has made it much easier for companies to relocate to the area."
The move was also financed by a £340,000 grant arranged through The Growth Company and a £1m loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Oldham Council has supported and smoothed the relocation.
Councillor Stretton said: "We have worked closely with J A Harrison to facilitate their move to Oldham and I am delighted that they have decided to relocate here, especially as this is where it all started for them.
"This new state-of-the-art facility will create good quality jobs and their apprenticeship scheme will improve the prospects of our young people and ensure they have the best possible start to their working lives."
The mayor, Councillor Qumer, said: "I would like to thank J A Harrison for bring their business back to Oldham. I was delighted to be at the unveiling and to meet the family behind this amazing company."