Wilson businesses expand, evolve in 2017

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It has been nearly a year since Bridgestone Americas officials announced they were doubling down on their expansion for the local plant, but that news is hardly the only business and industrial advancement last year in Wilson.

“2017 was a very active year for us in terms of prospective visits and requests for information, and we expect that to continue into next year,” said Jennifer Lantz, executive director of the Wilson Economic Development Council. “As our existing industries continue to flourish and grow, we can expect more jobs and investment.”

In fact, expansions at Wilson companies proved big business for the community in 2017. Bridgestone’s 10-year commitment of $344 million in investment and 16 new jobs was just the beginning.

Fresenius Kabi, a pharmaceutical manufacturer currently employing more than 100 people at Wilson Corporate Park, announced in November a much-anticipated $150 million expansion that would add 445 jobs, which Lantz said has far-reaching implications.

“The addition of another life science facility in Wilson County enhances our status within the state and the life science industry sector as a viable location for such business,” she said. “The jobs created will run the gamut of skill levels and provide a greater-than living wage for our citizens.”

Wilson’s other industrial developments also saw changes in 2017. Linamar Forgings Carolina, a tenant at Hackney Industrial Park in the east part of the city, announced a $6.8 million expansion in December that would add 31 new jobs. The German-based company is adding on to the existing building to add additional processes and automotive product lines.

“Every manufacturing job creates between 1.6 and 5 indirect jobs depending on the technology of the new job,” Lantz said following the Linamar announcement. “Growing our life science and automotive sectors helps attract additional companies to Wilson and North Carolina.”

Infrastructure work at the Campus at 587, formerly known as Woodard Parkway Industrial Park, began in 2017, and the first phase of construction is expected to be finished in early 2018. A variety of site selectors for companies across the country have toured the 830-acre park, but there have been no announcements of coming tenants.

“We rarely compete with our neighboring counties. Most of the competition Wilson faces is from urban communities adjacent to major cities,” said Lantz. “That being said, our site and building development, infrastructure, transportation connectivity and labor force draw all make Wilson attractive. We are prepared for the future.

“Our fiber system, reliable electric and gas service and ample water supply make Wilson stand out as well. Our proximity to the Triangle area and excellent road system make us a regional employment center.”

Not all business news was fruitful for Wilson, though. Le Bleu made headlines in October when permitting struggles canceled the company’s plan to expand. And while Wilson is home to Bridgestone, a foreign tire manufacturer announced on Dec. 19 that the company’s first manufacturing facility in the country would be to Wilson’s north in Edgecombe County. While some of the 800 jobs likely will be held by Wilsonians, Lantz said she is not discouraged by the news.

“We learned what we’ve always known: We are not a perfect fit for every company,” she said. “There are so often factors beyond our control that drive a (company’s) decision.”

As for smaller news in the business realm, Wilson made some significant strides with a variety of new restaurants and retailers opening for business throughout the city and county. The Upper Coastal Plain Business Development Center also started a project to encourage more entrepreneurship with a $25,000 investment to transform about 3,000 square feet into co-working space.

“We’re looking to attract more people and companies with the co-working design, but as they grow, we have more permanent space available to fit their needs,” said center CEO Greg Godard in July. “When you look at business development center in the Triangle and the Triad, companies usually start in the co-working space, then graduate to other spaces in the center as needed.”