Belk to open eCommerce distribution center

The need for space to accommodate the growth of its online business and the availability of a building and a workforce that could meet its needs led the nation’s largest privately-owned department store to locate its newest distribution facility in Union County.

In February, Union County Council voted unanimously to approve an incentive package for a company known only as “Project Presents” which Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said would invest $4.5 million in “an existing facility” and create 124 new jobs over the next five years. On Friday, Project Presents was revealed to be Belk Inc. which will locate a new eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center in the former Disney Direct Marketing distribution center on US 176 in the Jonesville area. The new facility will be an expansion of the company’s existing eCommerce fulfillment center in Pineville, N.C. and will be designed to meet the needs of its growing online business.

“Belk’s eCommerce growth has been very strong, and to accommodate the demand from our customers, we need additional fulfillment space. We are pleased to fulfill that need with this new facility in Union County,” said Belk President and COO John R. Belk. “South Carolina offers us an excellent business environment, a strong workforce and exceptional access to markets. We appreciate all the support we’ve received from state and local officials in making this project a reality.”

That support includes the incentive package approved by council. The package includes a 20-year fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement with the company reducing its property tax rate from 10.5 percent to 6 percent. The county will also provide Belk with a special revenue source credit tax incentive and designate the facility as a multi-county industrial park.

In discussing Belk’s decision to locate in Union County, Sinclair and Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker both pointed to the company’s need for space and how the former Disney facility meets that need.

“Their eCommerce business has grown dramatically and they had an almost immediate need for expansion, so the Disney facility was well-suited for that,” Sinclair said. “We’ve had conversations with the new plant manager. He’s a local fellow who grew up in Pacolet and he’s excited for this area and to be in this area.”

Sinclair added that Belk has already moved equipment into the building to prepare to begin operations by the middle of this year.

“A lot of equipment is already there,” Sinclair said. “They are already making some plans and preparations to establish their lines.”

Powell-Baker pointed out that while the building itself was what first inspired the company to consider Union County, it was only the beginning of the process.

“We started having discussions with them in the fourth quarter of 2011,” Powell-Baker said Friday. “The building itself is what caught their attention and that’s what initially brought them here. After that it was up to us to sell Union County.

“We did that with our workforce, our trained workforce was very attractive to them,” she said. “The building hasn’t been vacant very long and I feel blessed that just six months after the last Disney employee walked out that door we now have someone in there.”

While the company will not actually begin operations at its new facility until the middle of the year, Powell-Baker said it is already working with readySC to develop a recruitment and hiring plan.

Sinclair and Powell-Baker also pointed out that the desirability of Union County as a location for Belk’s new facility was matched by the desirability of the facility as an employer.

“We are happy with Belk’s decision to locate here from several aspects. First and foremost, it means jobs for our citizens while at the same time utilizing a previously vacant building. Belk’s business model will provide diverse job opportunities in an ever increasing, technologically based commerce,” said Sinclair. “Belk’s faith in Union’s workforce and their forecast of continued growth certainly makes us excited about their future in Union.”

Powell-Baker described Belk as a “wonderful corporate citizen. They have a long, successful, retail presence in our community and we are proud that they have chosen Union County to locate their eCommerce business and create jobs. We look forward to supporting them as they grow.”

The distribution and fulfillment center will be the second Belk facility in Union County. The company has a retail store located at 441 N. Duncan Bypass, Union, which employs a staff of 27 associates.

Belk’s decision was also welcomed by Jonesville Mayor Ernest Moore. The Town of Jonesville will supply the facility with water and sewer service and Moore said Belk will provide much-needed jobs in his community and throughout the rest of Union County.

“We’re excited about it, we’re excited about bringing new jobs into Union County,” Moore said. “We know that there are still some former Disney employees who are looking for work and hopefully we can help those people out and other people in the county who are seeking employment. I think the development board is doing a great job bringing industry into the county.”

The announcement was also welcomed by Union County Development Board Chairman Joe Nichols who also pointed to the jobs the facility will create.

“Many thanks to Belk for choosing Union County as the location for their eCommerce venture,” Nichols said. “This is another great success story that will bring over 100 jobs to our citizens who are seeking full-time employment.”

Belk’s decision was also welcomed by state officials.

“It’s a great day in South Carolina and we celebrate Belk’s decision to invest $4.5 million and create 124 new jobs in Union County,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “We are committed to bringing new jobs to communities all across our state, and announcements like this show we are on the right track in our economic development efforts.”

In a statement released Friday announcing Belk’s decision, the SC Department of Commerce stated that, in 2011, South Carolina recruited more than $285 million in investment and more than 2,500 new jobs in the distribution and logistics sector.

“South Carolina is a great location for companies trying to get products to markets throughout the Southeast. An established brand like Belk locating distribution facilities in one of our state’s rural communities is a real boost, and shows South Carolina has the business climate companies are looking for,” said Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt.

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times