Community leaders in Rome huddled under the shade of a tent off East Third Street on Wednesday for ceremonies to open the new Southeastern Mills Innovation Center.
The company’s previous research and development facility on Douglas Street in Lindale — known as the Center of Innovation — was sold as part of the spin-off of the coatings and seasonings division to Kerry, an Irish baking conglomerate.
Tom Reynolds, vice president for technical services at SEM, told a large crowd that the new Innovation Center includes a culinary kitchen, a large food service laboratory, and houses the SEM quality assurance and regulatory assurance units as well as the basic product development team.
“We want them to cross paths and talk every day,” Reynolds said. “This team can move mountains.”
The culinary kitchen includes a huge island with seating for 10 clients that can be brought in to sample some of the new or enhanced products.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, told a large group of political and business leaders that Rome and Floyd County are better off thanks to a company like Southeastern Mills.
“This is a fourth-generation family business. That’s a pretty big deal, because there aren’t many of those around nowadays,” Dempsey said.
Mayor Bill Collins called the business a “source of great pride for our community” and Floyd County Commission Chairman Scotty Hancock said the company has been one of the easiest to work with as it has grown through the years. SEM recently acquired 15 acres in the Floyd County Industrial park for a new distribution center which is expected to open this fall. The company also has an option on an adjacent parcel for future growth.
The new Innovation Center has previously served as the home to Bryant & Garrett Travel and then housed the Rome Floyd United Way for a number of years. SEM undertook extensive renovations to the building which included the removal of several load bearing walls to create the large open space necessary for both the culinary kitchen and the food science lab.
Earlier this week the company revealed plans to rebrand itself with a new corporate name that has yet to be determined.
President Peter Hjort Jr. said that he wants the new name to be more reflective of what the company looks like today than the old grain milling operations of half a century ago.