Officials hosted a groundbreaking ceremony today on Golden Key Road in Kutztown to mark the start of construction on a $60 million distribution center project near Interstate 78 that would bring 130 jobs.
NFI, a supply chain logistics fulfillment company headquartered in Cherry Hill, N.J., will be the first tenant in the West Hills Business Center, a 233-acre site of five planned distribution buildings in Weisenberg Township, said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., this morning.
Hillwood Investment Properties, a commercial real estate investor and developer based in Texas, will build the 980,000-square-foot facility to serve as the distribution center for Ocean Spray Cranberries, which will open a beverage production and manufacturing facility in Breinigsville near Route 100 in January 2014. Cunningham said the goal is to get the new center open in time to serve the Breinigsville site.
"Lehigh County is a critical distribution market in the U.S.," Sid Brown, CEO of NFI, said this morning. "NFI's investment of $9.3 million will help generate over 125 new jobs, as well as retain more than 650 positions."
As the former Lehigh County executive, Cunningham said he and other county officials helped to establish a tax increment financing district for the site – netting $13.1 million in public infrastructure improvements and allowing development to move forward.
The improvements include establishing wastewater treatment facilities to serve the site, rebuilding the access ramp to and from I-78, repairing the bridge over I-78 and widening Route 863.
"No one could develop the site without improving the offsite infrastructure," Cunningham said. "It's got potential for any large scale industrial use."
Without a TIF, it would have taken much longer, possibly as long as 10 years, to improve the infrastructure to develop the site, he said.
With a "50/50 split" TIF in place, he said the school district, township, and county will get 50 percent of the new income from the assessment of taxes. The other half will go toward paying back the cost of the infrastructure.
As head of LVEDC, Cunningham said he and his staff helped to connect Ocean Spray with NFI and administered the financing package for the project.
This first tenant in the facility is really an extension of Ocean Spray's presence in the Lehigh Valley, Cunningham said.
Though he did not know the exact pay rates of the new jobs the facility would bring, he said they would be higher-paying than traditional warehouse jobs.
"The modern logistics and warehouse centers have a range of jobs; the facilities are very technological and the jobs are much better paying," Cunningham said.