Sweetwater set to add 1,000 jobs

October 3, 2018 GMT

Sweetwater on Tuesday announced plans for a $76.4 million expansion that will add 1,000 jobs and 385,000 square feet of new space at the company’s Fort Wayne campus.

The musical equipment retailer said it will build warehousing and conference areas that will be operational by the summer of 2022. The new jobs will pay $54,000 a year on average and include positions in distribution, logistics, sales, marketing, merchandising and information technology.

“It’s turned into just an absolutely amazing business,” Chuck Surack, founder and president of Sweetwater, told employees, government officials, business leaders and media gathered at the expansion site. He said Sweetwater sold $4 million worth of musical instruments and audio gear Monday alone.

The company employs more than 1,300 people at its headquarters along U.S. 30 west of Fort Wayne.

Surack acknowledged that Sweetwater, a privately held company he started in 1979, has been recruited by interests in other states, and he hinted that he and wife, Lisa, might consider building facilities somewhere other than in Allen County.

“There’s actually some business reasons why having a warehouse maybe on the West Coast is not a bad idea, and so please give us grace in the future if we do something like that,” Surack said. “But we did feel that in the meantime and the short time, we really wanted to invest more in our community.”

He added: “This is an opportunity not only to provide jobs for people here, but ... to attract talent to our region and to continue to boost our economy. That’s what I’m all about today: I’m trying to grow jobs, whether it’s at Sweetwater or all the other businesses we own.”

County Commissioner Nelson Peters said Sweetwater has meant “tons of jobs, lots of money rolling in” for the community. He said the company had sales of 54,000 a year on average.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said Sweetwater attracts “the top talent in an uber-competitive world” and that people come “from all over the country and all over the world” to work for the retailer, which sells equipment to musicians, recording studios, broadcasters, filmmakers, schools and houses of worship.

Sweetwater’s announcement “is music to my ears,” Holcomb said, and he told Surack and other company officials, “You are hitting all of the high notes.”

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is offering Sweetwater up to 200,000 in training grants for the expansion, which will be on the west end of the company’s 163-acre campus.

“We are going to continue to make sure that there is an environment that you can prosper, that you can employ not just more Hoosiers but attract more to our great state,” Holcomb said.

Sweetwater plans to build a 350,000-square-foot warehouse that will store products and provide space for audio gear testing, photography and administrative offices.

It also will build a 35,000-square-foot conference center with room for 1,000 people.

John Hopkins, Sweetwater’s chief operating officer, said the warehouse will replace three storage buildings totaling 129,000 square feet that the company has built in the past dozen years.

“I have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to fill that up really quickly,” Hopkins said.

Sweetwater announced Sept. 17 that it was expanding its distribution operations by adding 130 jobs and three work shifts. The company said at the time that it would be hiring equipment operators and shipping and receiving personnel at wages starting at 15 an hour.

Eric Doden, chief executive officer of the economic development organization Greater Fort Wayne, said Tuesday that Sweetwater’s expansion fits the goals of GFW and Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative to “grow jobs, grow wages, grow the population.”

Mayor Tom Henry said Sweetwater’s growth “is an absolute, phenomenal piece of coursework in successful business development.”

Surack explained his company’s success as fitting “neatly between the other 8,000 music stores across the country and Amazon,” the giant online retailer.

“While a lot of businesses are threatened by the Amazon model, they haven’t figured out how to do the real personalized kind of care that we can do and have real consultants that can help understand the products,” he said.

“We think, as our products continue to be very technical, we need people to help explain them and understand them and sell you the right ones,” Surack said. “And so we think our model is going to grow for a long, long time.”

Sweetwater calls itself the “No. 1 online retailer of music instruments and audio gear in the U.S.”