Growing gains

 In 2015-07

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North Carolina was chock-full of new projects and corporate expansions announced over the last year, even as lawmakers wrangled over the role of incentives to attract businesses. Companies in many industries, including energy storage, finance, information technology and pharmaceuticals, disclosed plans to collectively invest billions in the state, helping North Carolina earn the No. 1 spot on Site Selection magazine’s ranking of Top Competitive States for 2014. The ranking is largely based on new businesses and expansions with a minimum investment of $1 million, creation of 20 or more jobs or new construction of 20,000 or more square feet.

The announcements came amid a shakeup in North Carolina’s recruitment strategy. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a public-private partnership led by former Missouri industry recruiter Chris Chung, has gained influence as the state cut funding for regional booster groups. The growth reflects the state’s skilled workforce, training programs, low unionization rate and a cut in the corporate tax rate to 5% from 6%  last year, Chung says.

The largest incentive program — the Job Development Investment Grant — issued 16 awards totaling more than $127 million in 2014. Because of tepid legislative support, the fund was depleted with the last grant issued in November. Since then, the state has relied on its secondary One North Carolina Fund program to provide incentives; those grants are contingent on matching contributions from local governments. Gov. Pat McCrory proposed restarting the JDIG program, to be renamed N.C. Competes, with $45 million over the next two years, plus $20 million for an infrastructure development fund designed to attract large manufacturing projects. State legislators were divided on how to restore funding as of mid-June. Another $50 million for a manufacturing site was pledged by the Golden Leaf Foundation, a Rocky Mount-based nonprofit created with proceeds from the settlement of tobacco-company litigation.

Sealed Air Corp., which is moving its headquarters to Charlotte from New Jersey, received the largest incentive package awarded over the last 12 months. The maker of Bubble Wrap plans to move more than 1,200 jobs here by 2017 in return for $39 million in tax breaks over the next 12 years. Many jobs will come from Sealed Air’s sites near Greenville, S.C., a reflection of the competition between North Carolina and South Carolina. Alevo Energy Inc. and Vertex Rail Technologies LLC disclosed large investments without seeking state incentives. Alevo, an energy-storage company that will occupy the former Philip Morris plant in Concord, says it will invest $1 billion.

The state also lost out on some big projects. Automaker Mercedes-Benz USA chose Atlanta for its new corporate headquarters, which are now in New Jersey. Volvo Cars, owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, favored a site near Charleston, S.C., that is expected to employ up to 4,000 people. Both Georgia and South Carolina offered attractive incentive packages, similar to ones that are prompting regional offices of Chesterbrook, Pa.-based AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and San Diego-based LPL Financial LLC to move more than 2,200 jobs from Charlotte to adjacent South Carolina suburbs over the next two years. Escondido, Calif.-based Stone Brewing Co. chose Richmond, Va., for its new East Coast brewery, a $74 million investment that will add 288 jobs. North Carolina also lost a corporate headquarters when a Brazilian investor group bought Chiquita Brands International Inc. and said it would close its 300-person Charlotte office by year-end. Chiquita had moved from Cincinnati in 2012, lured by a $22 million incentive package.

Here’s a look at North Carolina’s major economic-development projects — those pledging a minimum investment of $50 million or at least 500 new jobs — announced between June 1, 2014, and May 31, 2015. Chiquita’s example shows not every project reaches its investment and job-creation goals, but it’s an impressive list reflecting the state’s appeal to major global corporations. Chung adds, “We’re deeply grateful for these 17 companies — and the hundreds of others — that have chosen to locate or expand in our state over the past months, especially given the fierce competition we face all around us.”

Top Economic-Development Projects

*announced between June 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015

Advance Auto Parts Inc., Roanoke, Va.
County: Wake
Projected investment: $5 million
New jobs: 600
N.C. incentives: $17.4 million

North Carolina lost the headquarters of one of its largest privately owned companies when Advance bought Raleigh-based General Parts International Inc. in January 2014 for about $2 billion in cash. Fears of potential job losses were alleviated when Advance, which had sales of $9.8 billion in 2014, announced last June it was moving its CEO, CFO and other top management positions to Raleigh. The company plans to add 600 jobs with an average annual salary of about $110,000 by the end of 2017. Advance operates 329 auto-parts retail stores in North Carolina.

Alevo Energy Inc., Concord
County: Cabarrus
Projected investment: $1 billion
New jobs: 2,500
N.C. incentives: none

The U.S. division of Swiss company Alevo Group SA paid $68.5 million for the 3.5 million-square-foot former Philip Morris cigarette-manufacturing plant (above), where it will make large-scale battery packs for utilities to store excess power and power generated from renewable sources. The energy-storage industry is heating up: California-based electric automaker Tesla Motors unveiled in April a new division that will make utility-scale energy-storage units. In January, Alevo hired Jeff Gates, an energy-storage specialist who worked for 14 years at Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp., as director of sales and field operations.

Argos Therapeutics Inc., Durham
County: Durham
Projected investment: $56.7 million
New jobs: 236
N.C. incentives: $4.6 million

The biopharmaceutical company spun out of Duke University is conducting a phase 3 clinical trial for a cancer treatment and is also developing a treatment for HIV. Argos considered locations in Florida, Texas and Quebec before deciding to expand with a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Durham, adding to its 90-person workforce. The new jobs will pay an average annual salary of more than $79,000. Argos, which went public in 2014, had market capitalization of about $160 million in mid-June.

AvidXchange Inc.,  Charlotte
County: Mecklenburg
Projected investment: $21.5 million
New jobs: 603
N.C. incentives: $7.5 million

South Carolina offered incentives totaling $64.3 million for this software company to move its headquarters to Lancaster County, but the company chose to stay in Charlotte, where it was started in 2000. The expansion will quadruple its local workforce by the end of 2018. Privately held AvidXchange, which reported a 60% increase in revenue in 2014, sells accounts-payable software to small-to-midsized businesses. The company acquired Salt Lake City-based Piracle Inc. in November and Houston-based Strongroom Solutions Inc. in May.

Butterball LLC,  Garner
County: Hoke
Projected investment: $66.8 million
New jobs: 367
N.C. incentives: $150,000

The nation’s largest producer of turkey products will occupy a 255,000-square-foot processing plant previously owned by House of Raeford Farms Inc. and expects to produce more than 200 million pounds annually at the site. Butterball, which produces 1 billion pounds of turkey a year — 20% of the U.S. total — is jointly owned by Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based food conglomerate Seaboard Corp. and Goldsboro-based Maxwell Farms LLC.

Cascades Inc., Kingsley Falls, Quebec
County: Scotland
Projected investment: $62.1 million
New jobs: 68
N.C. incentives: $402,000

The Canadian paper company moved into a plant formerly occupied by textile manufacturer WestPoint Stevens Inc., Scotland County’s largest employer until it closed its Wagram sites and laid off hundreds of people in 2006 and 2007. Founded in 1964, Cascades makes bathroom tissue, paper napkins and other products, primarily from recycled fibers, and employs about 11,000 at more than 90 locations in North America and Europe.

Cisco Systems Inc.,  San Jose, Calif.
County: Wake
Projected investment: $1.6 million
New jobs: 550
N.C. incentives: $13 million

UNC Chapel Hill alum and Rocky Mount High School grad Chuck Robbins, 49, becomes CEO this month of the $47 billion tech company, which employs 70,000 in more than 165 countries. Cisco, which opened its RTP campus in 1995, employs about 4,900 in the state. The company announced in October it was dismissing 225 workers here as part of a global restructuring but says it will fulfill its commitment of adding 550 jobs by the end of 2017. Cisco also considered expansion sites in Georgia and Texas.

Cognizant Technology Solutions,  Teaneck, N.J.
County: Mecklenburg
Projected investment: $1.4 million
New jobs: 500
N.C. incentives: $5.1 million

Charlotte was a natural choice for the Fortune 500 IT consultant, which reported that 42% of its business in 2014 was in financial services. Spun out of The Dun & Bradstreet Corp. in 1996, Cognizant is adding 150 jobs at a new business-services center in Charlotte, with other positions at offices in Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilson. The company has drawn criticism for filling U.S. jobs with low-cost foreign temp labor. “The state is counting on jobs, but they’re missing the whole point,” Ron Hira, a public policy professor at Howard University, told International Business Times in December.

DPx Holdings BV/Patheon,  Durham
County: Pitt
Projected investment: $159 million
New jobs: 488
N.C. incentives: $6.3 million

Patheon, which provides contract drug development and manufacturing for pharmaceutical companies, is expanding at its 1.5-million-square-foot plant. Formed in 2014 when Durham-based Patheon merged with Dutch vitamin-maker Royal DSM in a $2.6 billion deal, the company — which employs more than 8,000 worldwide — also has a manufacturing site in High Point. CEO James Mullen was chief executive of Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Inc. from 2000 to 2002, saw the company through its merger with San Francisco-based Idec Pharmaceuticals and led the combined company from 2003 to 2010. Patheon bought Florence, S.C.-based IRIX Pharmaceuticals and Oregon-based Agere Pharmaceuticals in the first half of 2015. In June, the company filed for a $100 million initial public offering.

Enviva Partners LP,  Bethesda, Md.
Counties: Richmond, Sampson
Projected investment: $214.2 million
New jobs: 160
N.C. incentives: $1.6 million

The company predicts demand for utility-grade wood pellets — a popular fuel source in Europe — will triple by 2020, and Enviva is the world’s largest supplier by production capacity. The company, which raised almost $214 million in an initial public offering in April, will build wood-pellet manufacturing plants, adding to its existing ones in Hertford and Northampton counties. Enviva also has a storage facility under construction at the Port of Wilmington.

Gordon Food Service Inc.,  Wyoming, Mich.
County: Wake
Projected investment: $58 million
New jobs: 275
N.C. incentives: $500,000

Gordon Food Service supplies food products to restaurants, schools and health care companies in the U.S. and Canada. The company plans to open a 300,000-square-foot distribution center in Kannapolis. Privately held and family run since 1897, it offers delivery service and operates more than 170 retail stores that are open to the public and don’t charge membership fees. Facing growing competition, such as the pending merger of large restaurant suppliers Sysco Corp. and US Foods, Gordon is beefing up operations, acquiring Houston-based Glazier Foods Co. last year and Atlanta-based Halperns’ Steak and Seafood Co. in January.

HCL Technologies Ltd., New Delhi, India
County: Wake
Projected investment: $9 million
New jobs: 1,237
N.C. incentives: $19.7 million

India’s fourth largest IT company opened its Cary office in 2008 and employed 831 people there before announcing an expansion in September. New jobs include those in software development and IT-infrastructure management for global clients. HCL’s co-founder and chairman Shiv Nadar is India’s fourth richest person, according to Forbes. Also one of the country’s biggest philanthropists, Nadar has been recognized for his work establishing schools and providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.

Linamar Corp.,  Guelph, Ontario
Counties: Buncombe, Wilson
Projected investment: $155 million
New jobs: 275
N.C. incentives: $1.6 million

The diversified manufacturer announced in September plans to buy Carolina Forge Co. in Wilson, where it will invest $40 million and add 125 new jobs to the plant’s 145. The following month, Linamar said it was adding a line to make transmission gears for the auto industry, creating 150 jobs and investing $115 million at its existing Arden plant. The Canadian company opened the Buncombe County plant, which was previously occupied by Volvo Construction Equipment, in 2011. Linamar was founded in 1966 by Frank Hasenfratz, who started a machining shop in his home basement. Daughter Linda Hasenfratz has been CEO since 2002.

O’Neil Digital Solutions LLC,  Los Angeles
County: Union
Projected investment: $90.7 million
New jobs: 250
N.C. incentives: $2.3 million

Union County received disappointing news when French helicopter-engine maker Turbomeca Manufacturing Inc. said in November it was closing its Monroe plant, idling 112 workers. Five months later, O’Neil announced it would buy the plant and open a high-tech printing facility and data center. Local officials say the company, which also considered locations in South Carolina, could invest up to $140 million over 10 years. Founded in 1973 by William O’Neil, founder of brokerage firm William O’Neil & Co. and weekly newspaper Investor’s Business Daily, the company produces research publications for the financial and health care industries.

Sanderson Farms Inc.,  Laurel, Miss.
Counties: Lenoir, Robeson
Projected investment: $139 million
New jobs: 1,100
N.C. incentives: $1 million

The country’s third largest poultry producer first considered Cumberland County to build a processing plant and hatchery, but residents opposed the project over fears of increased traffic, odors and degraded water quality. So the company turned its attention to adjacent Robeson County and the town of St. Pauls  — population 2,250 — which welcomed it with open arms. “I think it’s probably one of the best things we’ve had in 30 years,” St. Pauls Mayor Gordon Westbrook told The Fayetteville Observer. Sanderson Farms, with a market value of $1.8 billion, also plans to upgrade an existing feed mill in Kinston.

Sealed Air Corp.,  Charlotte
County: Mecklenburg
Projected investment: $58.6 million
New jobs: 1,262
N.C. incentives: $39.2 million

Charlotte’s biggest corporate-headquarters relocation in years involves this company, started by two engineers in Hawthorne, N.J. Best known as the maker of Bubble Wrap, Sealed Air got its big break in 1960 when Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. used the product to protect electronic equipment during shipment. Sealed Air now employs 25,000 people in 63 countries and has manufacturing sites in Caldwell and Richmond counties. Greenville, S.C., offered incentives of about $48 million to lure the company, which is moving its executives from New Jersey. Average annual salary for the new jobs will be $119,482.

Vertex Rail Technologies LLC, Wilmington
County: New Hanover
Projected investment: $60 million
New jobs: 1,300
N.C. incentives: none

At a 68-acre manufacturing site previously occupied by crane manufacturer Terex Corp., Wilmington-based Vertex Rail plans to make railcars for the energy industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation introduced in May new safety standards for tank cars that transport crude oil, meaning many existing cars will need to be retrofitted or replaced. The same month, CEO Don Croteau attracted attention when another company he owned, Massachusetts-based Vertex Fab & Design LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection. Wilmington officials have said the bankruptcy isn’t likely to affect Vertex Rail’s local plans.

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