It was certainly no secret that ABB was making a massive expansion in Mebane, coming off an announcement by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in Raleigh earlier this summer. As Assistant City Manager Chris Rollins stated in the August Mebane City Council meeting, the cat was out of the bag.
But in order for the $39.9 million expansion to be formally accepted, Mebane city leaders had to act, voting to approve a series of local incentives. The City of Mebane’s proposed incentive package for ABB amounts to $1,197,000, including cash grants of $997,500 and waived local impact, permit and inspection fees estimated at $150,000.
According to town planners, the ABB economic development project is expected to generate more than $2,000,000 in property taxes over the next 10 years from current and proposed tax valuations. The city will also receive sales tax from construction along with the indirect benefits of creating 400 new jobs with an estimated annual payroll of over $31.9 million.
“ABB, for all you’re planning to do. For all you’re doing right now. We’re going to grow together. As you grow, the City grows. We appreciate that,” Mebane Mayor Glendel Stephenson said.
“It’s really delightful to have people making things - creating something - and employing our people. That plant has been in constant use for decades now. And we are really fortunate, first with GE, and now with you (ABB),” added City Council member Patty Philipps.
Project Clear Blue Sky was a competitive search by ABB for an expansion to occur either locally or out of state. The State of North Carolina was heavily involved in the process to compel ABB to make its way to Mebane. Project Clear Blue Sky, which began in the spring of 2019, is a consolidation of the company’s manufacturing, engineering, and related electrical products operations.
ABB hired the site selection accounting firm Deloitte US to assess incentives between multiple state locations. The company considered expanding the Mebane facility, or a competing site in Senatobia, Mississippi.
“If we were to lose this project to Mississippi, we were informed that the local current workforce would decline by 110 jobs,” Steve Brantley, Economic Development Director for Orange County, said to the City Council. “So that was an additional reason to work to incentivize this project. Not only for the net new growth in the tax base and the new jobs, but retention of existing jobs.”
ABB outlines its $39.9 million investment in Mebane to be split between $24.3 million in real property, and $15.6 million in personal property. The funds are expected to be expended within the first three years. ABB will use those funds to first add 200,000 square feet of new construction - an approximate 50 percent increase in the current facility’s size - along with improvements to the existing building. ABB is also bringing in machinery, and expects to add approximately 403 jobs, with an average annual salary as high as $70,789 annually.
“That is a much higher average salary than you would find in most counties,” Brantley explained, adding that ABB currently is the single-largest private employer in all of Orange County.
ABB is a multi-national company with Swiss and Swedish roots that was founded 130 years ago. The company has approximately 147,000 employees around the world, including 24,000 employees in the United States. Of those 24,000, approximately 3,000 ABB employees work in the state of North Carolina.
ABB has 65 manufacturing locations in the United States. The Mebane division is involved in operations including electrification, power grids, robotics, and motion control.
For many years, this company was known as GE Industrial Solutions. They were acquired in ABB in 2018, with their headquarters in Cary. The Mebane facility currently employs about 600 employees. The Orange County Commissioners met earlier in August and approved a series of incentives.
“It’s always a delight and personal pleasure to be here. I’m proud being able to be part of a very productive and positive relationship between Orange County and the City of Mebane,” Brantley said. “I will tell you, every time I come over here (to Mebane), which is often - mostly to eat Hursey’s Barbecue - I am looking for things to learn, to go back and copy about what you do so well in economic development. Among the many things, your gracious hospitality and your leadership by your residents and the City Council, is what I carry back with me.”
The incentives ABB has collected from the state of North Carolina, the City of Mebane, and Orange County includes a discretionary job development investment grant of $4.3 million, which is essentially a reimbursement of employee withholding taxes over a period of several years. There is also a building reuse grant, and a community college training budget with Alamance Community College in the amount of $600,000.
The 100-acre property sits adjacent to the Buckhorn Road (Exit 157) corridor on I-40/I-85. One of the considerations by the company is to move from Mebane’s Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction into the Mebane Corporate City Limits. The planned facility will result in added taxable investment of as much as $39,900,000 and create approximately 403 full-time jobs.