JONESVILLE — What began with a company’s search for space to accommodate its growing Internet business ended with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Jonesville area formally opening what one company official described as its “second home.”
The Belk eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center had its formal opening Friday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by company executives and representatives of local and state governments and economic development agencies. Belk will invest $4.5 million in its new eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center, generating 124 jobs over the next five years.
Friday’s ceremony opened with remarks by Belk President and COO Johnny Belk who discussed how the company was in desperate need of a facility to accommodate the growth of its eCommerce business and how that need was met here in Union County.
“We’re excited about being here in Union County,” Belk said. “We had a serious challenge to be able to handle our exploding eCommerce business. We had very short fuse of six to seven months to locate a facility, to build it out, develop the systems, and hire the workforce.
“We’ve been successful on all counts because of a lot of different people coming together in a short time to make it happen,” he said. “We’ve really been fortunate to find a building already built out to a large degree. Also, a large majority of those who did work here at the Disney facility have come back.”
The Belk eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center is located in the old Disney Direct Marketing building on US 176 in the Jonesville area. The facility is an expansion of Belk’s eCommerce fulfillment center in Pineville, NC, which Belk Vice President of Supply Chain Debbie Fortnum said was unable to accommodate the growth of the company’s Internet business despite recently undergoing an expansion.
“In May 2011, we completed an expansion of our fulfillment center in Pineville, NC, effectively doubling its size,” Fortnum said. “This expansion to 250,000 feet was to provide enough space to support our sales forecasts for the next two years. Our sales continued to outpace our plans and by October we had concluded we would need more space within six months. Thus began our quest for space.”
Fortnum pointed out that, due to the growth of its eCommerce business, Belk’s quest for space was also a race against the clock.
“Now for those of you familiar with projects of this type you will know that just finding a facility to meet your requirements usually takes six months to a year,” Fortnum said. “We had to be operational in a new facility in six months. We soon learned that almost serendipitously there was a former Disney direct to marketing facility in our own backyard. In early November we made our first visit to this facility. By the end of December we had signed a letter of intent.”
Once it had the building, which Fortnum described as “nicely outfitted,” Belk set out to make it functional in accordance with it needs. After this was accomplished, the next step was to hire the associates who would staff the facility, a process that Fortnum said was made easier for the company due to the cooperation it received from local and state officials.
“We had a building, we had processes, systems and conveyors, now we needed to bring it to life,” Fortnum said. “The Union County Development Board and the State of South Carolina’s ReadySC program rushed in to help us find the human resources that would bring the operation to life. Their assistance with job fairs, recruiting, and training has been invaluable and has delivered us a workforce of bright, hard-working and motivated individuals.”
That workforce already numbers 33 full-time associates and Fortnum said Belk plans to hire an additional 30 by August. Many of those who have already been hired by Belk previously worked at the facility when it was operated by Disney, among them Production Supervisor Ken Egidi who spoke of the impact of the facility being closed by Disney and its reopening by Belk.
“Many of us in Union and surrounding counties started working in this building in 1998 when it first opened,” Egidi said. “We had a good group of people and through the years we were constantly improving our processes in fulfillment. So we were disheartened when we heard the news that our former employer was closing the facility. The time that the building was closed was hard for all of us, not just the former employees, but for our friends and families. The whole community felt the loss; the loss of income, security and stability.
“We knew there were people working hard in both the public and private sector to find a company to utilize this great space,” he said. “When it was announced that Belk would be opening the facility I was excited and hopeful that I would become a part of the Belk team. Belk is a name that we all know as a trusted, local, family-run business. It means a lot to us to be able to work here in our commuity, close to our homes and our families. So I want to thank everyone that made this possible and I’m confident that all of us will do a great job here for Belk.”
Also welcoming Belk to Union County was Maceo Nance, director of the Small Business and Rural Development Division for the South Carolina Department of Commerce, who read the following statement from Gov. Nikki Haley:
“It’s a great day in South Carolina as we celebrate Belks decision to invest $4.5 million and create 124 new jobs in Union County. We work hard every day to bring new jobs to every part of our state. This new Belk eCommerce distribution center in Jonesville shows we are on the right track in our economic development efforts that there is no better plan than South Carolina for companies trying to get products to markets throughout the southeast.
“Although I am not her with you all today, I celebrate with you, Belk’s decision to join the ranks of many companies nationally and globally that are calling the Palmetto State the new home to their business ventures. Thank you.”
Nance pointed out that in the past year, there has been $194 million in capital investment and more than 3,000 jobs created by distribution and logistics companies in South Carolina. He said the state is making great efforts to provide the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of the distribution and logistics industry and enhance the state’s ability to attract more companies like Belk.
“From roads to rail, South Carolina’s infrastructure to support logistics and distribution is important to our state’s competitiveness,” Nance said. “As you travel our interstate highways today, whether it be I-26, I-85, I-77, I-20 or I-95, you will note that major improvements are taking place. These improvements are essential to long-term economic success.
“For those representing Belk eCommerce who are with us today, welcome to our South Carolina family,” he said. “As of today, you are officially South Carolinians.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Fortnum about Belk becoming part of the community.
“We started out looking for space, but what we found was a second home in a great community with amazing people,” Fortnum said. “We would like to say to the Town of Jonesville, Union County, and the State of South Carolina, thanks for having us.”
Fortnum also announced that beginning July 9, the center will “fulfill shoes and home goods to that ever growing population of Belk.com customers with Modern, Southern, Style.”
One of those customers will likely be Egidi’s wife who Egidi said was as enthusiastic, if not more so, about his coming to work for Belk.
“My wife was excited at the prospect of an associate discount,” Egidi said. “She told me that we get 90 percent of our clothes from Belk, and my response was ‘Well, what about housewares?’ We’ve always been a one credit card family, but now we’ve added a Belk Rewards card.”