Company’s pullout turns Kyle smiles into frowns

By Anita Miller

It was to be the largest employer in the city of Kyle, bringing in close to 1,000 jobs paying $40,000 per year or more.

SmileDirect, which manufactures invisible tooth aligners, made big promises back in October when officials welcomed the company inside the vast empty space at the Hays Logistics Center.

But those promises went unkept, as the company has canceled its plans to expand here.

City and county officials were on hand for the announcement, which also included a promise that all the company’s jobs would be filled locally — 439 people in its first year of operation, increasing to 643 during its second year and achieving full employment of 850 during its third year.

Kyle was chosen over competing cities in the Southeast including Atlanta, and SmileDirect was granted incentives from both the city and county as well as a $2,215,000 grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is overseen by the office of Governor Greg Abbott.

Kyle’s Director of Economic Development Diana Torres said at the time that SmileDirect represented a capital investment of $37 million.

In addition to providing the community with living-wage jobs, the company had promoted internships for Hays CISD students. “They can learn valuable skills right there,” Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell said at the time, “something that helps bring to fruition the concept of live, work and play.”

SmileDirect touted an “aggressive timeline” which included a start of production in February.

But February came and went, and the cavernous space on Vista Ridge remained empty. The parking lot, also vast and empty, provided space for free food distribution last spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the months-long shutdown forced thousands of local residents into unemployment. The 150,000-square-foot facility that SmileDirect said it would lease is now back on the market.

It was the pandemic that caused the company to change its plans, according to Mitchell. Though he declined to comment for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch, Mitchell said in a news release that he learned in July that SmileDirect would not be following through on its plans.

“Losing SmileDirect is unfortunate,” Mitchell said, “but the economic outlook of Kyle remains strong. We remain a city with a thriving office and industrial district, and companies are showing interest in our city from all over America.”

John Ellis of the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP), which was instrumental in developing the incentive package for SmileDirect, echoed Mitchell’s optimism.

“Although COVID-19 has presented economic challenges across the county, state and region, GSMP is experiencing a banner year with the potential capital investment dollars from prospects considering location and expansion in the Greater San Marcos region. The future outlook for continued economic growth is promising.”
There was no word on whether SmileDirect is opening a new facility elsewhere.

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