Week of February 24, 2003
  Project Watch
Gov. Mark Sanford
"Job No. 1 in this administration is going to be raising income levels in South Carolina," said Gov. Mark Sanford (pictured), who took office on Jan. 15. "That's why I think that Assurant's announcement today is welcome news on a couple of fronts."
Assurant Adding 560 Employees
in South Carolina Expansion
by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing

FLORENCE, S.C.Assurant Group has given South Carolina a soothing assurance of the bricks-and-mortar sort. The specialty risk company has tentatively announced that it will add 560 new employees over the next two years at its existing flood and hazard insurance tracking center in Florence, S.C. Assurant will build two new 50,000-sq.-ft. (4,500-sq.-m.) facilities to accommodate the expansion.
        The expansion comes as particularly welcome news to Palmetto State business recruiters, since the Florence operation has recently been involved in the insurance industry's larger shuffle. The Florence center first arrived in a different guise. Columbia, S.C.-based Fleet Mortgage Corp. established the operation in 1996 to service its mortgage portfolio. Assurant Group then acquired Fleet as part of its 1999 founding, when its parent company, international financial services provider Fortis, purchased American Bankers Insurance.
        Things took yet another turn in 2001, when Washington Mutual acquired Fleet Mortgage. Assurant, however, had previously decided to retain the Florence center for servicing its own flood and hazard insurance.
        The operation's continued growth in the city 90 miles (144 kilometers) west of Columbia was a major driver behind the expansion decision, said Assurant Vice President Michael Tange, "We are bursting at the seams in our current building," explained Tange, who manages the Florence facility. "The larger facility and expanded work force will enable us to significantly increase the portfolio of loans that we can service in Florence."
        The current center employs 135 workers. The operation will expand to "about 700" total employees in its two new facilities, Tange said.

Florence, S.C.
Fleet Mortgage Corp., an Assurant Group predecessor, first established the operation in Florence (pictured) in 1996. But Assurant decided to retain the operation for its own flood and hazard insurance lines after Fleet was acquired two years ago by Washington Mutual. Photo: Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce

Labor, Costs, Customer Proximity
Also Significant Location Factors
Other factors stimulating Assurant's expansion decision in Florence, Tange added, were the area's quality-labor availability, reasonable labor and construction costs, community support, and the site's proximity to major clients.
        Assurant will spend $14 million in building the two new facilities in Celebration Centre, a new 93-acre (37-hectare) office park now under development in Florence, company officials said. Assurant's expansion announcement was also an early economic development boost for new Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who took office on Jan. 15.
        "Job No. 1 in this administration is going to be raising income levels in South Carolina," Sanford said. "That's why I think that Assurant's announcement today is welcome news on a couple of fronts. It's not only great news for the Pee Dee Region, but it's also great news in strengthening the underlying business climate that's so critical to raising incomes." (South Carolina's Pee Dee Region, which draws its name from the Pee Dee River, includes Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Lee, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties.)
        The 560-job expansion also buttresses the efforts of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said Chairman Charlie Gould.
        "Two of our Partnership's major goals are to help our existing firms grow and to further diversify our economy," Gould noted. "This exciting announcement by Assurant Group is evidence that our efforts are paying dividends for our citizens."

Deal 'Contingent' on Incentives
But a few "i's" must still be dotted before the expansion is a done deal.
        "The project's location has been and remains contingent on state and county approval of certain financial incentives," an accompanying Assurant news release noted.
        Officials didn't reveal any details of the pending incentives. All signs, though, suggest that a final OK is imminent. Assurant wants to begin construction within 30 days, Tange said, with the new facilities going online by the end of this year.
        The South Carolina project continues an expansive period for Assurant.
        The company announced in September that it's adding almost 800 new employees at its insurance tracking operation in Springfield, Ohio, creating the largest mortgage services outsourcing complex in the United States. (For more details, see "Assurant Group's 800-Job Expansion Under Way in West Ohio" from the Sept. 2, 2002, Project Watch.)
        The company then announced in December its expansions in Canada and Oklahoma. Assurant is adding some 215 new employees in Kingston, Ont., and it's adding another 170 in Lawton, Okla. (For more details, see "Assurant Group Adding 400 New Jobs at Ontario and Oklahoma Operations" from the Dec. 16, 2002, Project Watch.)
        With operations in 11 U.S. states, plus Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Puerto Rico and the UK, Assurant has more than 5,600 employees.

Hyundai Sonata
The new California proving ground will test the Sonata sedans (pictured) and Santa Fe SUVs that will be made at Hyundai's new $1-billion Alabama plant.

Hyundai Setting Up First
North American Testing
Complex in California

by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor
of Interactive Publishing

CALIFORNIA CITY, Calif. – Build 'em, design 'em and test 'em in North America:
        That's the continental manufacturing equation that's rapidly shaping up for Seoul, South Korea-based Hyundai Motor Company.
        Hyundai North America last year announced that it's building a $1-billion manufacturing plant, its first U.S. production operation, in Montgomery, Ala. And the automaker recently opened a $24-million design center in Irvine, Calif., where the company established its first North American design operation in 1990.
        Now comes the test-'em part of Hyundai's North American puzzle. Hyundai North America has announced that it is building a $50-million automotive proving ground on a 4,300-acre (1,720-hectare) site near California City, Calif.
        Currently, Hyundai and Kia (a Hyundai affiliate company) vehicles that are sold in North America are tested in Korea. That will change, though, in the summer of 2004. That's when Hyundai officials are projecting that proving ground construction will be completed.
        The new operation will include a 6.4-mile (10.2-kilometer) oval track, a "vehicle dynamics area" (which is a vehicle-handling course inside the oval track), a paved hill road and several special surface roads, Hyundai officials explained. The complex will also include a 30,000-sq.-ft. (2,700-sq.-m.) complex for Hyundai offices and for indoor vehicle testing.

Hyundai Officials: Area Has Own
Proven Track Record with Automakers
The proving ground will be staffed and run by Hyundai America Technical Center (HATC), a Hyundai subsidiary that's responsible for technical development of Hyundai and Kia cars and trucks in North America.
        "The United States offers many appealing opportunities for Hyundai Motor Company, and we continue to invest to ensure our future here," HATC Senior Executive Vice President Young Woo Kim said in announcing the project. "The proving ground is an example of our commitment to developing vehicles that meet the unique demands of the American driver."
        The testing facility will support the 2005 launch of the Montgomery auto plant, he added. The Alabama plant is set to begin initial production tests in June of 2004. The new California proving ground will test all Hyundai vehicles and parts made and sold in the United States, he said.
Mohave Desert
The wide open spaces of the Mohave Desert (pictured) have proved to be a popular area for auto-industry proving grounds and research operations.

        Hyundai selected the site in the Mojave Desert because of the area's solid track record in supported other auto proving-ground and R&D operations, officials with the automaker said. Honda North America, for example, built its North American proving ground center in the Mojave Desert near Torrance, Calif., the same area in which Toyota also has vehicle-evaluation operations. Located north of State Highway 58, the site also positions Hyundai's North American proving ground in reasonably close proximity to its North American design center in Irvine.
        Despite the sprawling dimensions of Hyundai's North American proving ground, employment will be modest. The complex in eastern Kern County will employ some 40 workers, Hyundai officials said. But other corporate facilities associated with the auto-testing industry will be drawn to the area by Hyundai's new facility, company officials predicted.
        The North American proving ground project comes as Hyundai, along with Chrysler and Mitsubishi, has announced a 400-employee engine plant in Dundee, Mich. (For more details, see this issue's installment of the Incentive Deal of the Month, "Powered by $115M in Incentives, Chrysler-Led 400-Employee Engine Plant Michigan-Bound.")
        Hyundai in January held about 2.5 percent of the total U.S. auto market share, while Kia Motors held a share of 1.74 percent.

Rockefeller Group FTZ
Crate & Barrel's site search team liked the Rockefeller Group FTZ's proximity to the New Jersey Turnpike.

Crate & Barrel Picks New Jersey FTZ for Eastern U.S. Distribution Center

by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor
of Interactive Publishing

CRANBURY, N.J. – Marking a departure in strategy, home furnishings and house-wares retailer Crate & Barrel has decided to site a new 675,000-sq.-ft. (60,750-sq.-m.) distribution center in the 150-acre (60-hectare) Rockefeller Group Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) in Cranbury, N.J. The new design-build operation, which will serve the company's stores in the eastern United States, will be the first distribution center that Crate & Barrel has located inside a Foreign Trade Zone. In announcing the deal, Crate & Barrel also announced that is has tapped Jeffrey M. Brown Associates (JMB), a firm with considerable FTZ experience, to manage construction of the distribution center.
        Crate and Barrel's selection of the New Jersey site came after what Vice President of Logistics John J. Ling called "an exhaustive six-month real estate search."
Crate & Barrel
With 117 stores in the United States, Crate & Barrel is an arm of Euromarket Designs.

        "We selected the Rockefeller Group Foreign Trade Zone in Cranbury, N.J.," Ling explained, "because of its proximity to our stores, excellent highway access, available work force and our confidence in the Rockefeller Group's ability to manage a project of this scope."
        Located near New Jersey Turnpike Exit 8A, the center will serve Crate & Barrel stores all the way from Maine to Florida, Ling said.

JMB Will Build Two Separate Facilities
The Cranbury site's FTZ status will enable Crate & Barrel's distribution operation to treat imported goods for customs purposes as if the center were located outside the United States. Crate & Barrel will lease the distribution facilities. The lease, Ling explained, includes an option for a future expansion of up to 275,000 sq. ft. (24,750 sq. m.). Financial details of the lease were not revealed.
        The distribution complex in Cranbury will consist of two buildings: a 300,000-sq.-ft. (27,000-sq.-m.) facility for furniture distribution and a 375,000-sq.-ft. (33,750-sq.-m.) facility for house-wares distribution, Ling said. The house-wares structure will also include a 9,000-sq. ft. (810-sq.-m.) factory outlet store, company officials said.
        Both structures will include pre-cast concrete perimeter walls, structural steel columns and bar-joist-and-truss roofing systems, JMB officials explained.

JMB, Rockefeller Group
Bring Significant FTZ Experience
Though FTZs are a new location consideration for Crate & Barrel, both the Rockefeller Group and JMB bring significant FTZ backgrounds to the distribution center project.
        New York and Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based JMB, in fact, built the facility that will be one of Crate & Barrel's neighbors in the Cranbury FTZ - Pearson Education's 800,000-sq.-ft. (7,200-sq.-m.) warehouse/distribution center.
        "Our successful relationship with Crate & Barrel, and our ability to produce high-quality, on-time work will be major assets in this project," said JMB Project Manager Mike Preston. The Rockefeller Group Development Corporation created the northern New Jersey FTZ in Mt. Olive 20 years ago. Rockefeller Group Development, which is based in Mt. Olive, is currently developing three more FTZs, which are located in Homestead, Fla.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and St. Louis.
        The company's extensive FTZ experience helped convince Crate & Barrel of the cost savings and improved logistics that FTZ locations can provide, Rockefeller Group Development officials said.
        Northbrook, Ill.-based Crate and Barrel has other distribution centers in Dayton, N.J.; Hayward, Calif.; and Naperville, Ill.


©2003 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.