The 20-year-old company, which manufactures and sells spas across the country and overseas, has had a connection with Hillsboro for nearly four years, when Larry and Sherri Cole moved their spa distributorship here from Phillipsburg.
Sherri Cole grew up in Hillsboro, which was a factor in locating their business here. The Coles have been handling South?west Spas products exclusively since 1993 after starting their distributorship in 1991.
Cole is not employed presently by Southwest Spas, but has been instrumental in getting the company to make the move, according to Clint Seibel, who has been involved in the conversation as executive director of the Hillsboro Development Corp.
?Larry?s spa supplier, Kent Thompson, came to visit Larry and Sherri?s new location and fell in love with Hillsboro,? Seibel said.
Added Cole with a smile: ?He went back and told them he had found Mayberry. He said, ?I even saw Opie walking down the street.??
After his visit here, Thomp?son began making plans to move his manufacturing operation to Hillsboro.
?It soon became evident that Southwest Spas could operate with much less overhead in Hillsboro than they were experiencing in California,? Seibel said.
The transition has been under way for the past five weeks, with production slated to begin within a month within the former AMPI complex, now owned by the city of Hillsboro.
In order to make room for the manufacturing equipment, Cole moved his inventory out of the AMPI space he had been leasing and into a building on South Main owned by Hillsboro Ford and formerly occupied by Reimer Classics.
The manufacturing operation will employ six to eight people at the start. Several of those workers will be moving to Hillsboro, including Freddie Zapien and Jerry Zapien, who were lead employees for Thompson in California and will oversee the manufacturing operation here. They have been on site the past few weeks to set up the plant.
Thompson and wife Kande have purchased a lot in the Carriage Hills housing development and the long-range plan is to build a house in Hillsboro after their two sons graduate from high school within the next two years, according to Cole.
The company headquarters will remain in California until the Thompsons move. Cole said the company hopes to make its permanent home in the Hillsboro Industrial Park.
Along with their domestic market, Southwest Spas International exports spas to Europe. Spas manufactured in Hillsboro will be transported to Kansas City or Tulsa, both of which are international shipping ports.
Cole said he believes Hills?boro?s central location will reduce freight costs for both U.S. and foreign destinations.
Seibel said a representative from the Kansas Department of Commerce has met with Thompson and local players.
?He?s chomping at the bit to help us,? Seibel said. ?(Exper?tise) won?t be a problem. We just need to get a load (of finished spas) first.?
Cole said the country?s recent economic decline has affected spa sales nationwide, but not the decision to move the manufacturing operation to Hillsboro.
?The only thing we?ve done wrong is that we should have done it two years ago instead of right in the middle of this crisis,? Cole said. ?It would have been a lot better if we had done it sooner, but we?re getting it done and it should be up and running probably within a couple of weeks.?
Cole said the spa business in the United States ?has kind of dropped to nothing? in recent months.
?It?s also affecting the world economy; it?s slowing down overseas,? he added. ?The orders we have right now are from Switzerland and France.?
Cole estimated the company will manufacture about 1,000 spas in its first year here, depending on the orders.
Seibel said the arrival of the manufacturing operation has been an exciting development.
?Hillsboro is fortunate to see some economic growth in a time when many towns our size are experiencing a decline,? he said. ?HDC wants to do everything we can to make this a successful venture for them as well as for Hills?boro.?