Comarco ready to begin food-product operation in Putnam
Tom Hoversen knew it was time for Comarco Products to leave its headquarters in Camden, N.J.
The decision was not an easy one. New Jersey was home for Hoversen, his family and the employees of the eggplant food-processing company.
“We were landlocked in New Jersey and the reality is we really could not expand our business,” said Hoversen, the company’s president. “The building we had been in for 32 years was starting to show signs of age.
“The plant was inefficient and in today’s marketplace, your operation can’t afford any inefficiencies. We Scotch-taped and Band-Aided as much as we could over the years, but it became very evident we had to do something different.”
Nearly two years after he started considering other locations, the doors for Comarco Products of Florida will soon open inside Putnam County Business Park in Palatka – some 900 miles south of Camden.
It’s been a long journey, but this month, the company plans to start rolling its eggplant-based frozen food products out of its updated plant at 7100 PRC Way.
“What I saw was possibilities,” Hoversen said of the 52,000-square-foot building that had sat vacant for more than a decade. “It’s a first-class building and we’ve invested a lot of money into it.
“We’re committed to Putnam County. We’re very happy to be here and everyone in Putnam County has done a fantastic job in putting a warm blanket around us. It’s refreshing.”
While operations are expected to begin in June, Hoversen said he’s not sure when the plant will be producing at full capacity. When that happens, Comarco is expected to have up to 100 employees – possibly more – while processing 7 million pounds of eggplants annually.
In addition to bringing new jobs to the area, Comarco’s new headquarters will also put another property on the tax roll for Putnam County.
Construction continues with the final upgrades to the building, which will include a freezer that can hold 1,200 pallets of frozen products, automated equipment and new state-of-the-art conveyor lines.
Some Comarco employees moved from New Jersey to work at the new Palatka plant. Other positions will be filled locally as the plant ramps up operations. For employment information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and county officials are elated the plant will soon be in operation and hope more companies will follow Comarco to the business park. Chamber President Dana Jones and Vice President of Economic Development Brian Bergen toured inside the facility Thursday.
Jones said the opening of the plant is good news for the county as it tries to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders because of coronavirus concerns have slowed the local, state and national economy. Putnam County saw its unemployment rate rise to 11% in April.
Jones said the new plant also exposes opportunities in the business park to companies like Comarco.
“It’s a wonderful thing for Putnam County to have such a great new corporate citizen in Tom and all of Comarco in our community,” Jones said. “There are jobs and the capital investment and it’s a good time to announce positive news.
“I look at this building and I’m still kind of shocked. Nothing came to this building for all the 16 years since they started laying the foundation. It was just a shell with a dirt floor. To walk out here today and see all this is just a dream come to fruition.”
Hoversen said the move to Putnam County will give the company room for growth while operating more efficiently with more freezer space for products.
Comarco currently produces three products for the food services industry – fried eggplants, jalapeno peppers and ravioli. All products are shipped frozen.
“Every day, whatever we made that day, we shipped out,” Hoversen said. “There’s a big expense to that. We have designed this plant to be much, much more efficient in the cost of operations.
“For us, it’s very exciting. What we’ve done is really raise the bar as a company.”
Since the company gets most of its eggplants from Florida, Comarco will also save in shipping costs.
“We were taking in fresh eggplants from Florida nine months out of the year,” Hoversen said. “Once we got the product there, we take the top of the eggplant off and peel it. That’s about a 20% loss that we’re sending to the trash. We were paying freight on that 20%. That was another big point is that we’re a lot closer.”
The company was forced to close its New Jersey headquarters in March due to COVID-19 and made the decision not to reopen it before relocating to Florida. Hoversen said he’s eager to get the plant in operation in Palatka to rebuild Comarco’s product supply.
Bergen said Comarco is the largest new business to come to Putnam County during his time with the chamber. “It’s really the perfect type of company that we want to recruit to come to Putnam County,” Bergen said.
“They are a headquarters plant and not a branch plant. And they are committed to being here for years and years. It also adds to the agricultural value of our products grown in Putnam County.”
County Administrator Terry Suggs said it was a win-win for the county to see the company relocate from New Jersey to Putnam County.
“You’ve got a company that’s been established for many years coming down to Palatka to a building that’s sat vacant for several years,” Suggs said. “They’re spending somewhere between $5 and $10 million on renovating the building. Our local farmers and growers may be able to help provide their produce.
“We’re getting another company on tax rolls and its operation will visibly breathe life into our business park.”