Saturday, August 13, 2022

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Large ABB Expansion Underway

The start of the New Year is a time ripe with promise for many businesses. But the arrival of 2020 has been especially momentous for two companies that have manufacturing plants in the works in this part of the state.

The anticipation has certainly been running high in Burlington, where a company called Flexaust has made itself at home in a previously dormant industrial building at 1902 Tucker Street.

But the sense of expectation has arguably been even more intense at ABB, a Swiss specialist in robotics and heavy equipment, which is rushing to complete a twofold expansion of a manufacturing plant that it operates on the eastern fringes of Mebane.

Since mid summer, work crews in ABB’s employ have been scrambling to double the size of the 200,000-square-foot facility that the company owns at 6801 Industrial Drive. The Zurich-based manufacturer inherited this plant from General Electric when it acquired GE’s “Industrial Solutions” business for $2.6 billion in 2017. ABB ultimately plans to invest at least $39.9 million into the plant, while adding another 400-plus employees to the facility’s existing workforce of about 600 people.

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The progress that contractors have made on this project is already visible from Interstate 85/40, which passes facility on its way into Mebane. This site, which was recently annexed into Mebane’s municipal limits, lies on Orange County’s side of the border with Alamance, not far from the interstate interchange for Buckhorn Road.

ABB formally committed itself to this project on July 10 of last year, shortly after the company received a grant for nearly $4.4 million from the state’s commerce department. The sheer speed of this venture was abundantly clear by the first week of August, when Doug Sutter, a program manager at ABB’s North Carolina headquarters in Cary, told Mebane’s city council that the company hopes to have the expanded facility built and ready for action by April of 2020. 

In order to persuade the company to follow through with its plans, Mebane’s elected leaders have offered ABB more than $1 million in financial incentives to defray the overall cost of this project. This seven-figure housewarming present includes $997,500 in cash grants that the city has pledged to make in five annual installments of $199,500 each. The city has also agreed to waive up to $150,000 in planning and development fees that the company would otherwise have incurred.

In addition to the largesse from Mebane, Orange County’s board of commissioners has pledged another $972,000 in payments toward ABB’s project. Meanwhile, various state-level agencies have offered the company a sum of roughly $6.5 million in grants, tax breaks, and other inducements. These incentives include a “job development investment grant” worth up to $4,369,500 over 12 years from the NC Department of Commerce. ABB has also received a building reuse grant worth another $500,000, $1.053 million in sales tax exemptions on the equipment and machinery it buys for the facility, and $644,800 in customized training from the state’s community college system.

In return for these high-dollar pledges, ABB has agreed to make a minimum taxable investment of $39.9 million in the plant, whose tax value before ground breaking amounted to about $20 million. According to Mebane’s assistant city manager Chris Rollins, the plant’s added tax value will enable the city to recoup its incentives by the time that it tenders the fifth annual payment – with the net gain after 10 years predicted to be about $1,433,500.   

ABB’s incentives are also conditional on the company’s proposed addition of roughly 400 new employees – whose average salaries have been predicted to reach $70,789 a year, as compared to Orange County’s current prevailing wage of $46,112.

A global enterprise with operations in more than 100 countries, and a workforce of roughly 147,000 people worldwide, ABB is one of the many corporate powerhouses that has made itself at home in Mebane. Since it took over GE’s operations, the Swiss company has continued to use the Mebane facility to make components for the electrical power grid. According to the governor’s office, ABB has also distinguished itself as “a global leader…in robotics and industrial automation.”The Alamance News was unable to reach anyone at ABB’s Mebane facility during the holiday season to confirm that the company’s timeframe for this project remains on course since its presentation to Mebane’s city council in August.

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