PEZ presence to expand in Orange

ORANGE—Prior to Governor M. Jodi Rell's tour of the PEZ candy factory here, she was asked to dawn a blue and white trucker hat with the Pez logo emblazoned on it, so as to be in accordance with food safety laws.

"See," said Rell as she affixed the hat to her head, "I love PEZ."

And Rell proved recently that she really does love Pez, and its presence in Connecticut, by giving the Orange PEZ factory a $2 million loan to aid in buying machinery and equipment for the factory's expansion.

Rell was given a tour of the manufacturing plant last week, accompanied by Orange First Selectman James Zeoli, so she could see exactly where the money is going. The expansion of the manufacturing facility, which makes the familiar fruit-flavored rectangular candy and their disembodied-head dispensers, is expected to create 20 new full-time jobs by 2011, adding to the plant's existing 127 full-time workers.

"It's a boon to Orange, bringing more jobs into the community, and more people who might reside here and spend earned income here," said Zeoli. "It's wonderful that they have their factory here. I hope many more generations of children get to realize that PEZ candy is made here."

The governor and first selectman were escorted through various parts of the plant, which smelled heavily of PEZ, and were shown the complicated Willy-Wonkaesque machines that make the candy and dispensers. At one point Rell joked that a dispenser should be made with her head atop, to be distributed at campaign stops.

"I'd be right up there with Bugs Bunny and Santa Claus," she joked.

The governor stopped many times during the tour to chat with factory workers, who seemed happy to meet her.

"It's nice of her," said 10-year factory worker Kim Pue of the governor's appearance. "This is the first time I've ever seen her."

The PEZ factory recently opened a 46,125-square foot warehouse here, bringing the entire facility's size to 100,000-square feet. The company, which also keeps a warehouse in Milford, will end up spending nearly $5 million to upgrade its machinery and facilities.

Rell and Zeoli were shown the factory's new warehouse, which was a forest of green and orange steel frame, where workers were being trained to operate new radio frequency controlled forklifts.

The governor's loan to the company comes with several terms. PEZ is required to retain jobs, otherwise the state will impose a $13,605.44 penalty and a increase in interest of 0.1 percent on their loan for each position below the job requirement. PEZ will be getting the $2 million loan over a period of 10 years at 2 percent interest, with the first two years deferred of interest. The two year deferral, the state hopes, will allow PEZ to reinvest in product development, cost of machinery and equipment, and thus increase employment.

At one point during the tour, Rell was presented with several sleeves of orange-flavored PEZ candy, which, fresh from the machine, were warm. Despite her apparent love for the candy, there is no word on whether the governor will fund research that would make it easier to load PEZ dispensers.