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North Carolina’s industrial parks have the right fit

Chinese manufacturer Triangle Tyre is locating its first U.S. facility at the Kingsboro megasite in Edgecombe County. Triangle Tyre is the first company to sign on at the 1,449-acre site.

Appeared as a sponsored section in the April 2018 issue of Business North Carolina.

By Suzanne Wood

Although North Carolina has yet to land a major automaker at one of its four shovel-ready megasites, one community got a taste of what such a deal would mean. In December, an international tire maker announced it would build its first plant outside China at the 1,449-acre Kingsboro megasite in Edgecombe County.

Triangle Tyre, based in Weihai, China, will invest $580 million in a facility that will manufacture both passenger and commercial tires, employing up to 800 people at full capacity. Coming just before the holidays, the Triangle Tyre announcement gave residents a reason to celebrate in the five-county area the company will serve. And, it was an encouraging sign to economic developers and officials in communities near the other sites that success comes in many forms.

“It was an early Christmas present,” says Oppie Jordan, vice president of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, a regional economic development agency. Most of the jobs will be skilled, with the average salary nearly $57,000, which is about $20,000 more than the average wage in Edgecombe County. For these and other reasons, Jordan calls the announcement “game-changing.”

Triangle Tyre is the first manufacturer to locate at one of North Carolina’s megasites, all of which courted the Toyota-Mazda manufacturing facility that ended up in Alabama. The Kingsboro megasite is 5 miles east of Rocky Mount and 6 miles west of Tarboro. It’s an hour from Raleigh, and rail carrier CSX has service adjacent to the site.

The Chatham-Siler City megasite consists of 1,818 buildable acres in three sections. It has direct access to the Norfolk Southern rail line and is within 50 miles of Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Piedmont Triad International Airport.

The Greensboro-Randolph megasite has 1,900 acres and is less than 10 miles from Interstate 85 via U.S. 421. The state’s three major airports are within 100 miles of this site.
The Moncure megasite is located close to Research Triangle Park and is the largest of the four sites, with 2,500 acres. It is a 45-minute drive from Raleigh.

But as companies have shown, an industrial park doesn’t have to be “mega” to attract big-name tenants employing hundreds of people. Across the state, dozens of parks, including some specialized ones, are filling their acreage with companies that don’t require the space of an auto plant but want the highway access and infrastructure assurances offered by an industrial park.

In Davidson County, the first tenant to sign on at the county-owned I-85 Corporate Center near Linwood rivals the Triangle Tyre project in size and scope. Egger Wood Products, an Austrian particle-board producer, announced in 2017 it would open a $700 million manufacturing facility that would eventually employ 770 people on more than 200 acres in the industrial park. The Davidson site was chosen over two other finalists in South Carolina and Georgia for hosting the company’s first U.S. manufacturing facility.

“The three sites were very close, but if you use an Olympic analogy, Davidson County’s workforce, its proximity to the timber industry and overall infrastructure helped it win our gold by a nose,” Michael Egger, a co-owner of the company, told the Winston-Salem Journal when the project was announced in July 2017.

Company officials have said they’ll complete the project in three phases, with manufacturing expected to commence in 2020. For Craig Goodson, vice president of the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, the project is just the first dividend of an investment the county made several years ago when it purchased the 431 acres that make up the first phase of the park.

Goodson says there are plans to acquire and develop more than 1,100 acres and notes the industrial park could house enough companies that might mean as many as 9,000 jobs if it reaches its full potential. The county has invested $10 million in infrastructure, including water, sewer, natural gas, high-speed fiber and roads with the help of a Community Development Block Grant, Goodson says. He also credits Norfolk Southern Railroad and North Carolina Railroad Co. for putting in a rail spur, which likely helped seal the deal for Egger.

“It’s not very often a project like this comes around,” he says. “It raises the bar for everyone. The increase in the tax base it will create will allow the county to grow and attract even more industries.”

Megasites and large industrial parks aren’t the only real estate available to manufacturers looking to pour concrete within months of locating a space. Specialized or industry-focused industrial tracts cater to companies that serve a specific niche and want to be near suppliers and competitors.

Take the industrial park that has built up around Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro. Dozens of companies employing roughly 4,000 people contribute to the region’s growing aerospace economy, working out of hangars and warehouses largely hidden from air travelers.

One of the largest such companies is HAECO International, which repairs and maintains aircraft for major airlines and has had a presence in Greensboro for about 25 years. In January, the company opened its fifth hangar at the airport, a $60 million facility that will eventually house up to 500 technicians and mechanics working on large-body aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. At that point, HAECO’s workforce at the airport will likely number 2,200, according to Richard Kendall, HAECO America’s CEO.

Another longtime tenant, Honda Aircraft Co., recently made headlines when it signed a deal for its biggest order to date: 16 planes for Wijet, a French air taxi service that intends to replace its entire fleet with the HondaJet lightweight model. HondaJet planes can attain a maximum cruise speed of 486 mph and a maximum altitude of 43,000 feet. It’s said to have a price tag of $4.9 million.

Stand-alone industrial parks often are built near community colleges or partner with the schools to locate a training facility on a park’s campus. Guilford Technical Community College has a training center for airplane mechanics right on the tarmac of Piedmont Triad International Airport.

“There’s no question that we’re focused on growth,” says Kevin Baker, executive director of the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority. “We want to become known as the ‘Wichita of the East.’” Baker is referring to Wichita, Kan., which decades ago became a manufacturing hub for several aircraft manufacturers, including Lear, Cessna and, until fairly recently, Boeing.

There is room to grow, with 1,000 acres of graded sites ready for tenants, Baker says. A recent feasibility study showed that the airport could support up to 30,000 aviation-related jobs, he says, even if it doesn’t land a big-name tenant such as Boeing, which alone could employ 8,000.

To take advantage of the food-processing cluster that has been gaining numbers and recognition in southeastern North Carolina, the developers of a 25-year-old industrial park in Columbus County sought food-processing certification from several entities, notes Gary Lanier, director of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission. As a result, the 350-acre Southeast Regional Park can now bill itself the only “triple certified” park in North Carolina, bearing seals of approval from the state, Garner Economics/Primus Consulting and Duke Energy’s Shovel Ready program.

Compared with other industries, food processing requires a generous supply of fresh water for use in both washing produce and cooking food as well as ample sewer capacity for wastewater, notes Lanier. Industrial parks or other facilities that don’t take these needs into account during development or construction often find they can’t meet the infrastructure needs of food-processing companies without going to great expense. They can thank their local municipalities, who base their water and sewer needs primarily around residential customers, Lanier says.

Some towns in Columbus County are within 15% of capacity for water and sewer, Lanier says. “We have a million and a half gallons of excess capacity, and there’s a 500,000-gallon standing water tank in the park.”

The park currently has a couple of food-industry tenants, including tortilla-maker Torta-Mex, which had been shuttered for years but will soon be operational again thanks to an infusion of cash by a private-equity firm, notes Lanier. It will have a workforce of about 30. And a fresh fruit and vegetable wholesaler is in negotiations with the park to locate a distribution facility there, employing about 50 people. Lanier and others also are responding to requests for proposals from a number of food processing companies seeking to expand or locate facilities.

Having Southeastern Community College and its food-safety programs aimed at the food-processing industry just 300 yards from the park gate doesn’t hurt its chances of landing prime tenants.

“It really all comes down to infrastructure,” Lanier says. “With our triple certifications, companies can be assured that the park has been looked at all the way down to the bones.”

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