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Berkeley County hopes for ‘economic solar system’

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Although the wide expanse of land is currently undeveloped, the 450-acre site in the Tabler Station Business Park will eventually be home to the largest manufacturing project in West Virginia: Procter & Gamble.

State and local officials announced the arrival of P&G, a Fortune 50 company, with great fanfare in February, hailing it as one of the most significant business projects for the state.

“To say it’s the largest one in West Virginia, it’s true, and that’s great, but it’s going to be one of the largest in the country,” said Stephen Christian, executive director for the Berkeley County Development Authority. “There will be very few sub-sectors of the (local) economy that will not be affected,”

Procter & Gamble’s initial investment in the project is $500 million. When all phases are complete, the facility is estimated to be about 4.5 million square feet and will employ more than 700 full-time positions.

The groundbreaking ceremony will be this summer, and the plant is projected to open in 2017.

Landing the deal

While the excitement and speculation for the project since the state’s announcement has been continuous, the effort to attract P&G to Berkeley County began more than a year ago.

Since beginning his position with the Berkeley County Development Authority, Christian said one of his goals was to bring a once-in-a-lifetime project to the county – something he knows has been achieved with P&G.

To do that, he knew the authority would need the one thing it didn’t have at that time – land. In early 2012, the largest contiguous parcel of land the authority could market was about 125 acres, so the authority began purchasing land.

“From the very baseline requirement, the very beginning of what it takes, is always the requirement of a really big site that has access to a major freeway,” Christian said. “I knew if we had a huge site, we would at least have a chance to get one of these mega-manufacturing projects, the brass ring.”

So, over several years, the development authority began acquiring land in several of its business parks, especially Tabler Station Business Park.

The venture was successful and in late fall 2013, the authority was first approached by a then-unnamed company interested in learning more about what the county and Tabler Station could offer. The company received the codename “Project Independence” and remained anonymous until May 2014, when it was ready to commit to Berkeley County.

The county began as one of more than 40 potential locations throughout the Northeast before being shortlisted to the top three, to the eventual chosen location.

“We knew it was big, but when we found out it was Procter & Gamble, we were beyond excited,” Christian said. “They’re a high-quality, blue chip, very conscientious company, particularly with communities and their employee base.”

Christian credited the cooperation of all state and local entities involved in the project, from the local utilities to the governor’s office. He said presenting a cohesive team working together became the winning strategy, especially considering all the different groups, companies and offices that needed to come together to ensure the project’s success.

“It’s a huge site. The power supply alone for this thing, the amount of electricity needed is about the same as the entire City of Martinsburg,” he said. “Having all those team members together and moving in the same direction and ensuring Procter & Gamble that we can do this really demonstrated how committed we are.”

P&G’s decision

While the decision to locate in Berkeley County is an important distinction for the area, it is also a landmark decision for Procter & Gamble. The Berkeley County facility will only be the company’s second new plant in the United States since 1971.

In an email to The Journal, Jeff LeRoy, senior manager of media relations for P&G, stated the company selected the Tabler Station location for its access to major interstates and rail spurs as well as its proximity to the company’s distribution centers.

“The West Virginia site was selected because of its proximity to East Coast population centers, infrastructure and a strong labor force,” LeRoy said. “It is strategically located in the East to allow for P&G to optimize inventory levels, improve service to retail customers and consumers and help achieve P&G’s goal of reaching 80 percent of consumers within one-day transit from the manufacturing site.”

Additional reasons listed include talent recruitment, and the quality of the education and school system.

According to LeRoy, this facility is part of the company’s recent effort to restructure its entire North American supply chain in order to be more cost effective and efficient.

“This will be a large, multi-category site in a strategic location that enables P&G to serve retail customers and consumers in a way we never have before, making P&G more customer-centric and consumer-responsive than any other supply chain in the world,” he said.

Job creation 

Before the facility is even operational, the project is estimated to create between 1,000 and 1,500 construction jobs. Once the facility is open, currently estimated in 2017, it is predicted to house about 700 to 900 full-time jobs.

While P&G has not announced which products will be manufactured at the facility, the majority of jobs predicted for the plant are in high-tech manufacturing.

Christian said that once the plant is operational, its expected payroll will be between $45 million and $50 million.

“These are going to be careers, true careers in high-tech manufacturing. They’re going to be one of the premier employers people are going to work for,” Christian said. “It’s a real step up. People work for Procter & Gamble for generations. They have families that have been working there for generations.”

With talent recruitment, a strong labor force and the education system some of the attractive features for the area, P&G has been in communication with area educational facilities like Shepherd University, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and James Rumsey Technical Institute to create or enhance programs focusing on the technical needs of the employee base, he said.

Job creation is predicted to continue past the facility’s opening through the number of additional commercial development projects expected to follow P&G.

Housing and construction 

While currently seeing a slight increase in county-level activity in the housing and construction industries, Lyn Marsh Hansen, president of the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association, believes P&G’s arrival will provide a boost in activity of residential and commercial sites being sold and built.

Although it is not known if local companies or residents will be hired to fill the positions, Marsh Hansen said large companies traditionally subcontract work locally.

“They’re talking about upward of 750 full-time positions once they’re up and in full operation. Those people have to live somewhere,” she said. “It’s going to free up more affordable housing, and it’s also going to mean that there’s going to be higher-priced homes being built because these people are going to be making pretty decent incomes, based on what we’re being told.”

In addition to the jobs created by building the P&G facility, construction jobs will also be created by the supplier businesses likely moving to the area to provide materials for the products manufactured, as well as other businesses locating to the area, said David Hartley, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Home Builders Association.

Christian also believes the years-long construction process will provide a large infusion into the economy, through increased housing, commercial and retail construction projects, and jobs that will extend beyond the facility’s completion.

“Once the plant is operational, we’re going to see other companies clustering around it – strategic suppliers of raw materials and specialized services,” he said. “It is going to kind of create its own economic solar system where you’ve got product and service providers orbiting the mothership.

“P&G wants it that way, and in fact designed their site in such a way that certain critical partners and suppliers will be able to co-locate portions of their product supply chain onto the site itself.”

Hartley stated an additional effect of building new homes and filling available homes is broadening the county’s tax base, which positively impacts the county’s budget.

“The tax dollars that new homes are going to provide definitely help all of us,” Marsh Hansen said. “The new employees coming in are not just going to be buying homes, they’re going to be buying groceries, vehicles, furniture, and they’re going to be sending their kids to dance class. Everybody is going to be a beneficiary of this.”

The addition of new homes should also continue and extend the current trend of increasing property values, she added.

“I think it definitely does provide a boost to the economy,” she said. “The driving force for the (local) economy has historically over the years been the building industry. So, if we’re going to be building new homes for a number of these people that are going to be employees at the facility, I can’t imagine that it would not have a positive impact on property values.”

Education

With the potential for a significant influx of people to the region over the next several years, Berkeley County Schools is evaluating its current long-range planning and resources. Prior to P&G’s public announcement, the company spent time in the school system and evaluated its education standards and practices.

According to Manny Arvon, superintendent for BCS, growth is one of the prominent factors of the school system’s 2010-2020 comprehensive facilities plan.

“We build the core area of the school buildings large because we always plan for those buildings to easily add additional classrooms,” he said. “We did that throughout this county looking at the potential growth. That’s what we’re projecting.”

Arvon said any influx of students would fit into the school system’s long-term planning. Berkeley County Schools has been in a continuous building program for at least the past 18 years, he said. This year alone, BCS had an influx of 453 new students.

“Procter & Gamble will present us with additional needs, which may include educators and management teams,” he said. “Because your student population grows, our focus is of hiring quality, not quantity, teachers. That’s always been our mission, to recruit and retain great teachers.”

Business community

When first hearing the announcement of P&G’s arrival, Tina Combs, CEO and president of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, said she knew this was a “very big deal” for the community – for businesses and for residents.

“The addition of P&G to our community will have a positive effect on the business environment and the economy here and even beyond the state lines to the north and the south,” she said. “To what extent is not yet known, but we anticipate that it will be quite extensive.”

Combs anticipates the continued growth of the county’s business community through P&G by the projected increase of businesses to this area, both commercial and retail, that will open new locations here because of the large facility.

The increased interest in locating commercial and retail projects to the area is already coming to fruition. Since P&G’s announcement, the development authority has received a significant influx of inquiries, especially concentrated in Tabler Station Business Park, Christian said.

“Commercial development is what follows as a result of these baseline, job-creating industrial projects. I do expect the Tabler Station Exit 8 intersection to dramatically change over the next decade,” he said. “The long-term benefits for the area and for business will be extremely strong for the economy. We’re already seeing more retail, food, hotel and basic commercial project interest.”

Combs also believes once the manufacturing operation is open, more residents will have the opportunity to work locally rather than commute.

“Communities are stronger when people are able to live and work in their own community,” she said. “They have more time to spend with their families and participate in community activities. I hope this will give people in our community who have to travel outside our community every day to work the opportunity to work here.”

– Staff writer Samantha Cronk can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/scronkJN.

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