CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Procter & Gamble broke ground Friday on a $500 million plant that will improve its access to East Coast customers and create hundreds of jobs as one of the largest economic development projects in West Virginia history.
The Cincinnati-based consumer-goods company said the manufacturing hub near Martinsburg in the state's Eastern Panhandle is eventually expected to employ 700 full-time workers. The company said new site is within a day's travel of nearly 80 percent of consumers in the eastern United States. The site is 80 miles from Washington, D.C.; 100 miles from Baltimore and 265 miles from New York City.
Some 1,000 temporary construction jobs will become available as construction begins next month, leading up to the 2017 opening of the plant — only the second built by Procter & Gamble in the U.S. since 1971. For full-time plant workers, the company will start taking applications on Oct. 1, begin hiring next summer and ramp up to 300 employees in 2017. The rest are expected to join by 2019.
Procter & Gamble considered 70 locations for what will be the company's fifth-largest U.S. workforce.
"We had essentially created a unicorn in this marketplace, and we knew it," said Stephen Christian, Berkeley County Economic Development Authority executive director. "We knew we were the biggest (site) that was available in the mid-Atlantic section of the I-81 corridor."
About two years before Procter & Gamble became interested in the site, county officials borrowed $2 million to more than double the size of an existing industrial park before setting out to hunt for Fortune 500 companies, Christian said.
The officials said having the "mega-industrial" site known as Tabler Station Business Park helped Berkeley County land the plant. West Virginia is the least populated state in a competitive region for landing new businesses that includes Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
In 2012, Berkeley County used bonds to help the site grow to more than 580 acres. Six years earlier, Berkeley took out a $6 million bond to shape the park.
The Eastern Panhandle, unlike most of West Virginia, continues to grow. The region generally boasts a younger and better-educated workforce.
"If you think about Martinsburg, you have Shenandoah Valley National Park, you have Washington, D.C., Baltimore, you have Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) just up the interstate," said Procter & Gamble spokesman Jeff LeRoy. "It's just a very good community for living and raising a family."
The facility will stretch more than 1 million square feet across 458 acres and produce multiple brands, though the company hasn't announced which products yet. It also hasn't specified an average salary for the jobs. The company's products include personal care, household cleaning, laundry detergents and prescription drugs, with sales totaling about $83 billion in the 2014 budget year.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Procter & Gamble is coordinating with community and technical college officials on training options. The company has donated $30,000 to Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.
Procter & Gamble wouldn't say why it picked West Virginia over other sites, but stressed a need for a lot of space.
"When you go looking for parcels of land that are bundled in that size, it's not as easy as you think," LeRoy said.
Procter & Gamble's deal includes a 20-year abatement on property taxes in Berkeley County, with the biggest tax savings in the first five years and required job creation and investment benchmarks.
The state is chipping in $8.5 million for infrastructure improvements, including roads, water, sewer, power, gas lines and relocation of a cell tower, said Commerce Department spokeswoman Chelsea Ruby.
After the industrial park expansion, Christian said he spent most of 2013 contacting real estate firms for Fortune 500 companies. He was encouraged that the department store chain Macy's chose Martinsburg in 2012 to open a $150 million, 1.3-million-square-foot distribution center.
In November 2013, local officials heard from a real estate firm that represented something being billed as "Project Independence." But the officials didn't know Procter & Gamble was the company until May 2014, Christian said. The company announced its plans publicly February.