Norwalk Furniture finally has a future.
Late Friday afternoon, a group of local investors reached an agreement to buy the floundering company, pledging to hire 175-200 employees and restart operations "as soon as possible."
The new company, tentatively named Norwalk Custom Order Furniture, will begin creating a business plan Monday morning to fill pending orders, restore confidence in its customers and hire new workers.
City leaders expressed relief when the two sides finally reached a deal after five weeks of up-and-down negotiations.
"We are just in awe that people would step up like this," said Bethany Dentler, the city's economic development director.
Mayor Sue Lesch's office called an impromptu press conference at 4:30 p.m. Friday, announcing that about a dozen investors had agreed to buy Norwalk Furniture just 45 minutes earlier.
The press conference was led by Tom Bleile, the spokesperson for the new investors, who said the investors preferred to remain anonymous in the immediate future. He did announce, however, that Dan White, a local businessman, would be interim chief executive officer.
Norwalk Furniture suspended all its operations and sent employees home July 18. Since then, most employees have waited in limbo for the company to reopen.
On Sept. 16, however, Norwalk Furniture officially fired all its employees, signaling the company's end.
Bleile confirmed that Norwalk Furniture is now defunct and that the new management, which has no affiliation with the old company, will make hires of its own. He implied, however, that the new management plans to re-hire many of the old employees.
On numerous occasions throughout the press conference, he cited those employees as the catalyst for this deal.
"If this was simply a business transaction, it would have never taken place," he said. "We were thinking about those wonderfully talented, delightful people who were unemployed and needed their jobs back, needed their health insurance back."
Although he declined to disclose the financial terms of the agreement, Bleile did say the investors will receive a $1,875,000 loan from the state for the property. He also said they will meet with the Ohio Tax Credit Authority on Monday to get money from the Job Creation Tax Credit Program. He repeatedly thanked state officials for their efforts in the negotiating process.
But Bleile warned that the company has many obstacles to overcome before declaring this deal a success.
"This doesn't conclude today. This just gets us to the start," he said. "It won't be concluded until people get to work and we're running a successful project."
He stressed that customers had lost a lot of confidence in Norwalk Furniture, and that many of its relationships with its clients "had been damaged or even destroyed" in this process. He said in these difficult economic times, repairing those relationships and becoming a successful company again would be difficult.
Former employees also tempered their excitement.
"It's really hard to say I'm excited, because I don't know any of the specifics," said Joe Balcerowski, who remains unemployed. "But this is the first step, and hopefully it will work out for everyone."