In 2010, 18 companies opened new offices, headquarters or facilities in Mecklenburg County, according to the Charlotte Regional Partnership’s By the Numbers report. Here are profiles of four businesses that decided Mecklenburg is the right spot for them to put down roots.
Building on a sense of community
No ground has been broken yet, but Prentis Trickett, system group manager for the power and automation technology group ABB, is thrilled about the new manufacturing facility to be built in Huntersville.
“We’re getting excited about actually being able to start doing something,” Trickett said with a chuckle.
Right now, he’s waiting for the demolition of the administrative buildings currently located on the site. Until the space is available, he’s been busy gathering the necessary permits to begin construction on the facility, where workers will build high-voltage land power cables. Construction is slated for completion in the second half of 2012.
Having both the interstate and the airport nearby were important when choosing a site, Trickett said, as was the number of education centers in the area and a skilled engineering workforce.
But it was the community feel – the sense of welcome from neighbors, town officials and state representatives that really sold Trickett on the location.
“We’re really pleased with our partners so far,” Trickett said. “We’ve found everyone in the community and the county to be helpful pointing us in the right
Though Charlotte was the busier city center, the facility to be built included an extrusion tower more than 350 feet tall, which meant the company was restricted in how close it could build to the airport. But the rapidly-growing nearby town of Huntersville was a welcome alternative, Trickett said.
Mecklenburg County’s high property tax rate meant that Trickett held out for an incentive, prompting the county to offer the company a $5.3 million Business Investment Program Grant, to be paid out over 10 years. The grant is equal to 75 percent of the projected property taxes that ABB will pay during that period.
Citco: In the financial center of Charlotte
When considering where to open their newest North American office, Charlotte was a natural destination for the financial services company Citco Fund Services, said Jay Pellar, CEO of Citco North America.
Citco made its announcement in June, and the promise of the 250 jobs that it would bring was hailed by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and local officials as a sign that Charlotte’s financial sector is recovering.
Pellar said the decision, which was made despite recruiting efforts by Montreal and Rochester, N.Y. mostly came back to the labor pool that was readily available and the nearby colleges and universities that suggested more educated workers in the future. He emphasized that for Citco, the people were more important than any potential kickbacks the company would be receiving.
“We can go into different cost measures, go into different rebates that were available,” Pellar said. “But If you look at Citco, we lead with people. The people are the number one commodity.”
The consideration for “the people” also meant that the company prioritized a city with a high quality of life, especially when expecting to hire on so many new employees, tying them to the area, Pellar added. That meant looking for a city where housing near the city was affordable and the climate was temperate.
The Charlotte/Douglas International Airport was another driving factor behind the decision, Pellar said. Since the Citco group of companies has 40 offices, including 64 overseas, meant that employees were needed to be connected to the other locations.
Though Pellar said there was some talk of putting the office in one of the surrounding counties where property taxes were lower – many politicians’ worst nightmare – he said that the benefits of being central to the city outweighed any possible tax savings.
“We wanted our business right in the center of the financial center,” he said.
Health care firm happy with labor pool
“It’s a mecca for hospital systems,” Summer Zifko, office manager for the Charlotte headquarters of Linet Americas, said of Charlotte. “We have Novant and Premier and UNCC and Presbyterian, all of which may be our customers in the future.”
That’s the main reason Czech-based Linet chose Charlotte as its home base when looking for a location for its North American headquarters. It’s the growing health care and hospital industry in the area that made Charlotte the ideal city for a company that manufactures hospital beds and patient room equipment. Not only because were there so many potential clients here, but the same operations all but guaranteed an available labor pool, Zifko said.
Though Zifko said she would be hiring 50 employees over the next three to five years, she said there were no positions available yet. But as sales increase, so will hiring.
In fact, Linet expects sales to be high enough that the corporate headquarters will eventually be able to expand into a full production facility in Charlotte, as well.
The decision to expand to North America came after the Czech company had pretty much conquered all other markets, Zifko said. The exposure gave company leaders the confidence that they could do well in the North American market.
Since the company is based in the Czech Republic, accessibility and mobility were key factors, as well, Zifko said.
“Having good access to the airport means we can fly customers in and out on the same day,” she said.
Access to airport a key to move
Lynchburg’s loss was Charlotte’s gain when the nuclear energy manufacturer and supplier Babcock & Wilcox announced that it would be moving its headquarters.
After Babcock & Wilcox separated from its parent, McDermott International, to become an independent company, CEO Brandon Bethards said executives started looking for a larger metropolitan area where they would have access to all the services they needed, including banking and consulting services.
“We looked at a number of different cities, and got an analysis of different alternatives,” Bethards said. “And we landed in Charlotte.”
One of the driving factors, Bethards said, was the proximity to the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, which gave employees access to other offices, including those in Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario, Canada. Since many employees already traveled through Charlotte while hopping from one office to another, it seemed like a natural choice, Bethards said.
The financial talent available in Charlotte was another contributing factor, Bethards added, since he would be hiring finance and accounting positions. And Charlotte’s growing status as a hub for the energy industry was exciting, as well, since the company was relocating its nuclear energy managing group.
But there were some drawbacks that gave Bethards pause, and the property tax rate was one of them.
“That’s why we ended up locating our offices in the Ballantyne area, since it’s at the edge of the county line,” he said. “That gave the employees their choice as to whether they wanted to buy a home in Mecklenburg County or one of the surrounding counties.”
But the Ballantyne area had its downsides, too, one of which was the traffic on I-485 shortly before the exit closest to the corporate offices. The congestion seems excessive, Bethards said, especially for a city Charlotte’s size.
“The road seems to be grossly overloaded in the morning and the evening, making it difficult to move,” he said. “That’s one of the real negatives that stood out.”
Despite the drawbacks, Bethards said he’s enjoyed living in Charlotte since the office opened in June.
Some closed up shop or headed out of town
Other businesses shut down their Mecklenburg operations. The following is a list of some of those who left in 2010. Business owners declined to speak in detail with The Mecklenberg Times about their decisions.
Deere & Company announced in June that it would close its John Deere Southeast Engineering Center in Charlotte, moving most of the operations to the John Deere office in Cary. While most of the 90 employees were relocated to other John Deere facilities, some positions had to be eliminated, according to a statement released in June.
John May, global vice president of Deere’s turf and utility platform, said that the move was an attempt to “focus on serving customers through improved use of company assets and finances.” Spokesman Kenneth Golden said in an e-mail that the move was not made out of concern about the Charlotte area.
Medical device company Orthofix International announced in February that its U.S. headquarters office in Huntersville would be closed, moving operations to other facilities and making the Boston office the new company headquarters. Corporate accounting and finance functions had already been relocated in 2008; by 2010, all that was left to do was relocate the remaining six workers to facilities in Dallas, Boston and San Diego to complete the consolidation. Alan Milinazzo, chief executive, said that the move was part of a broad company effort to reduce operating expenses.
Berry Plastics Corp, a plastic packaging company based in Evansville, Indiana, closed its plant on Freedom Drive in May. The closure resulted in layoffs of 73 employees, according to the company’s filing with the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The report said that the employees would receive a severance package.
Cooper Wiring Devices closed its North Charlotte facility in August at a cost of 82 jobs, although the company’s filing with the North Carolina Department of Commerce said that some employees may be eligible for transfer.
Sun Chemical Corp., an ink manufacturer based in Parsippany, N.J., announced in February that the Charlotte facility would be closed and operations moved to a facility in Kankakee, Ill., with production of tobacco inks and coatings moved to a Richmond, Va., plant. The consolidation resulted in 75 layoffs, though employees were offered severance benefits. John Gowlett, vice president of global operations, praised the Charlotte operations but said that the move was necessary in order to improve the company’s efficiency.
Ad agency Corder Philips filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in October, eliminating 15 positions in the process.
Simonini Builders, a Charlotte-based luxury homebuilding company, announced in September that it would be shutting down after 16 years of operation. In a statement, Alan Simonini said that the tough real estate market was “unlike anything I expected to see in my lifetime” and left the company unsustainable. The shutdown resulted in the loss of 46 jobs.
Caitlin Coakley can be reached at [email protected].