SIOUX CITY | Sabre Industries in December opened a $18 million factory in Sioux City that helps meet the company's growing orders for steel support structures for electrical transmission lines.

The 192,000-square-foot plant is the first phase of a multi-year expansion that will put all of the company's Sioux City operations under one roof -- and more than double its local employment.

A year ago, Sioux City beat out cities in multiple states for the high-profile project. While Sioux City and state of Iowa offered an attractive package of incentives, the selection was based on more than economics, said Sabre President and CEO Peter Sandore.

The Alvardo, Texas, firm wanted to retain its large skilled workforce in Sioux City.

Sandore recalled how local workers pitched in to sandbag around Sabre's Murray Street plant as Missouri River flooding threatened during the summer of 2011.

"They worked 24-7. We didn't lose any production. With that kind of dedication, we decided, this is where we should put the new facility," he said.

The expansion saved 208 existing jobs, and created 192 new positions, in the areas of production, shipping, receiving, administration, sales, operations and human resources.

Construction on the new plant began last June, and was completed at a "lighting fast" pace, said Brian Newberg, executive vice president of Sabre Steel Products.

The new plant was modeled after a similar factory in Alvardo, where Sandore said the company has had some trouble finding enough welders.

For the Sioux City expansion, Sabre partnered with Western Iowa Tech Community College, which established a customized program to train welders.

Sandore joined Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Mayor Bob Scott and other state and local leaders for a Jan. 11 dedication ceremony. More than 100 local officials attended the ceremony, which culminated a project three years in the planning.

City Economic Development Director Marty Dougherty recalled the first time he showed top Sabre executives the 150-acre site, at the time a soybean field along a gravel road. The city has since installed paved streets and other infrastructure in Southbridge, a shovel-ready business park that covers hundreds of acres south of Sioux Gateway Airport.

At the urging of city leaders, Branstad called on Sabre shortly after the November 2010 election, when voters returned him to a fifth term, following a 12-year absence.

State and city leaders struck a deal with Sabre in early 2012.

The city pledged to provide a $1 million grant and the land in the business park, northwest of Southbridge Drive and 225th Street. The city also agreed to buy Sabre's current complex in the 2100 block of Murray Street for $2 million, and then lease it back to the company.

The state also approved incentives, including a nearly $1 million forgiveable loan.

The package helped retain a major employer with long ties to the region. Sabre was founded in 1977 in Sioux City by Bailey Aalfs to manufacture high-frequency antenna systems. As cellular phone usage grew in the 1990s, the company began designing and fabricating towers for the wireless communication industry

In more recent years, Sabre has grown into the leading provider of steel structures for the communications industry, and the third largest provider of transmission structures for the utility industry.

Last August, the manufacturer was acquired by affiliates of New York-based private equity firm Kohlberg & Co.

When completed, Sabre's sprawling Southbridge campus will include a series of structures totaling 246,000 square feet.  An administration building is currently under construction.

The next phase is expected to begin later this year. When finished, it will allow Sabre to shift production of its communications towers from Murray Street to the Southbridge site.

Two additional bays will be added onto the new fabrication plant, Sandore said. At the same time, the CEO said, the company is looking to construct a galvanizing plant, which would create even more jobs.

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