Lakeland, Fla.-based supermarket chain Publix can’t head south unless it expands to Cuba. So its obvious push is northward, and a $400 million investment in Greensboro will play a key role in the expansion.
The center, which plans to employ 1,000 with salaries averaging $44,000 a year, was also a nice gain for the Gate City, which has smarted from some recent negative corporate location decisions.
State and local leaders, including Gov. Roy Cooper, applauded Publix’s move at an event attended by 1,500 people. They also brought the checkbook: Publix is on tap for a $15.9 million state incentives package, plus $20 million in tax breaks and improvements for the site, which is in a mostly undeveloped part of east Greensboro controlled by developer Roy Carroll.
Publix has 38 stores in North Carolina, 42 in Tennessee and 10 in Virginia, a pittance compared with its 788 in Florida. Its northernmost distribution center is in an Atlanta suburb. With the new center, the supermarket chain will be poised to expand into Maryland, Pennsylvania and other northern states. As the nation’s largest employee-owned company, with 2017 sales of nearly $35 billion, Publix can arguably take a long-term perspective unlike rivals that are either publicly traded (such as Kroger and Walmart) or held by private equity (The Fresh Market and Sprouts).
Some grocery industry observers have told me privately that Publix’s entry into North Carolina has been tougher than the Floridians expected. The state already has a competitive market with highly regarded operators that are raising their game, particularly as giant Amazon expands its Whole Foods Market division. Kroger’s Harris Teeter stores, for example, have trimmed prices and offered unusual discounts to counter adjacent, new Publix stores. On the lower-price end of food retailing, German-owned Lidl and Aldi are expanding in North Carolina. Lidl just opened a big distribution center in Mebane.
But having a distribution center will enable Publix to operate more efficiently in the Tar Heel State. And the goodwill created by its huge investment in Guilford County should bolster the company’s support here, also.