JONESVILLE — The long tradition of service to the people of Union County by Belk, Inc. reached a new level Friday with the formal opening of the new Belk eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center, a milestone made possible by the continuing cooperation between the public and private sector to promote economic development.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning formally opened the facility which is located in the old Disney Direct Marketing building on US 176 in the Jonesville area. Belk is investing $4.5 million into the facility which will generate 124 jobs over the next five years. During Friday’s ceremony, a Belk official said the company has already hired 33 associates and plans to hire an addition 30 by August. The official said the facility, which is an expansion of Belk’s existing fulfillment center in Pineville, NC, will begin fulfilling orders for shoes and home goods for its growing number of Belk.com customers in mid-July.
Belk’s tradition of customer service was highlighted during Friday’s ceremony by, among others, Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair who shared a personal reminiscence from his youth about the impact the local Belk department store had on his life and the community.
“Many here today will talk of jobs, growth, mutual confidence in the center and the community and I share in that but let me comment from a personal community perspective for a minute about Belk as an institution and Union,” Sinclair said. “I comment directly to you Mr. Belk and the Belk corporate and personal family. I grew up on the mill village in Union right down from Main Street and Belk’s department store. As a kid and Easter approaching we go uptown to Belks to get new Sunday shoes and clothes.
“There was a man some here may remember named AW Diamond Johns that was Belk’s manager,” he said. “Mr. Johns supported Union in every way from high school athletics, college students and to individual personal needs. I know as a kid I could go get a suit or shoes and no matter how much money I had, in Mr. Johns view it was always enough. I would leave and walk down Main Street Union feeling good about myself with my new stuff. Well, I know he was a good man personally, but I believe that he was also reflecting Belk’s values and their belief and support of our community.”
Sinclair said the joy felt in Union County with the announcement that Belk was locating its new eCommerce distribution and fulfillment center in the Jonesville area was like the delight he experience as a child purchasing new clothes from its local department store.
“Our community was hit pretty hard with the announcement of the Disney leaving,” Sinclair said. “Our community was elated with the Belk announcement. Kind of like me leaving Belk’s downtown years ago with my new suit and Sunday shoes and maybe even a tie Mr. Johns had given me and showed me how to tie.”
Sinclair also recalled a meeting with the start up manager for the eCommerce center and how it too reminded him of the customer service he and others received and the support the community had received from Belk.
“As this Belk project began to unfold, Brad Jolly and I had reason to come here early on to meet with the start up manager Chuck Worthy,” Sinclair said. “Chuck was to transition this center into operation and continue involvement in the one in North Carolina. As I talked with him I learned he was from right up the road in Pacolet and was elated to be part of putting something back in his community and to a degree kind of coming home. His comments reminded me of taking care of home and community much like Diamond Johns did 50 years ago.”
Even though much has changed since his childhood, Sinclair said the values of Belk that he first experienced as a child have not change.
“Mr. Belk, while this is a new center, Internet based and does not have the walk-in traffic of years ago, from what I have experienced in this start up process I really am convinced the basic traditional values Belk’s has of quality products and services has not changed, only technology has changed,” Sinclair said. “In that view and from that perspective, we welcome your expansion here in Union with this ribbon-cutting today. This event kind of makes our community feel like we have a new pair of shoes to go with our Sunday suit. On behalf of the community I welcome you and the Belk personal and corporate family to our community and express our congratulations and appreciation.”
During Friday’s ceremony, a Belk executive pointed out that the company’s eCommerce business has grown at such a rate that it the facility in Pineville, NC, could not accommodate it despite undergoing a recent expansion. The company needed a a facility that it could rapidly adapt to meet the needs of its growing Internet business and it found it in Union County in the old Disney building. This in turn led to a collaborative effort on the part of the public and private sector to provide the company with, first, a package of incentives, and then, with staffing the facility.
In February, Union County Council approved a package of incentives that included a 20-year fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement with the company reducing its property tax rate from 10.5 percent to 6 percent. The county also committed to provide Belk with a special revenue source credit tax incentive and designate the facility as a multi-county industrial park.
Utilities were another major incentive with the facility receiving its power from Broad River Electric Cooperative and its water and sewer from the Town of Jonesville.
“We worked hand-in-hand with the development board quoting rates to bring them here,” Broad River President and CEO Doug Wilson said. “They wanted to make sure that it would be economically feasible, that their power rates would be reasonable. They were also interested in the reliability of the service on that circuit. We met those and we held their confidence that we could provide good, safe, reliable service. That plant has never had an outage since it opened in 1998 and we’re very proud of that.”
Wilson, who is also a member of the Union County Development Board, welcomed Belk and the jobs it is bringing to the community.
“We’re proud that Belk is here,” Wilson said. “We hate that we lost Disney, but we’re happy that Belk is there bringing new jobs to the people of Union County.”
Jonesville Mayor Ernest Moore also welcomed Belk pledging to cooperate with the company as much as possible.
“I’m excited about it and looking forward to working with them in any way I can,” Moore said. “Hopefully they will continue to grow and hire more people in the future.
“I want to commend the development board for working to bring them here,” he said. “They did a tremendous job.”
During Friday’s ceremony, a Belk official pointed out that the development board, together with SCWorks, help the company rapidly staff the facility making it possible for the center to get set up as quickly as it did. Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker said that the combination of an available workforce, many of them former Disney employees, and the building itself helped bring the distribution and fulfillment center to the county.
“What started out as a very short timeline for them to get up and running, is now a reality for a long-term partnership,” Powell-Baker said. “Clearly, the owners of the company, Johnny and Tim Belk, along with their leadership team, want to be here. We certainly welcome them with open arms and expect to support them and future expansions for a very long time.
“The event itself was very-well organized and coordinated; but I got cold chills when I saw so many faces of former Disney employees,” she said. “Those employees along with the building is what made our community so attractive to Belk. From the day that we were allowed to start marketing the building, we also started marketing the skills and ethics of the workforce inside the building. Belk found a perfect fit in both.”