Egger Wood Products, a leading European supplier of wood-based furniture and interior design materials, is launching one of the largest capital investment projects in the history of North Carolina’s Triad region.
In 2017, the family-owned company based in St. Johann, Austria, announced plans to invest up to $700 million in a composite panel plant in Davidson County that could grow to 770 employees in 15 years at full production.
Egger researched 50 sites for its first U.S. plant before narrowing its choices to locations in North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.
It was a tight competition, but state and local partners including the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the Davidson County Economic Development Commission and the North Carolina Department of Commerce worked together to convince the company that the best choice was the I-85 Corporate Center industrial site southwest of Lexington.
The plant’s first phase, supported by state and local incentives, will bring 400 jobs and $300 million in investment to Davidson County over the next six years. The company expects to invest another $400 million and create 370 more jobs in subsequent phases.
The plant will initially produce raw particle board and thermally fused laminate (TFL) board. Egger plans to continuously add manufacturing capacity for TFL board as its North American market grows, according to Karl Grasser, who led Egger’s search for a U.S. location.
Egger’s laminated panels come in a wide variety of decorative surfaces used in furniture, countertops, cabinets and more. The surfaces and matched edging cater to its furniture and interior design industry customers who include architects, designers, wholesalers and manufacturers. Buyers’ choices range from solid color board with high-gloss or smooth matte finishes, to boards with the appearance of granite, concrete and metal or the look and feel of wood.
“Our goal is to position ourselves as one of the leading brands for wood-based solutions in the U.S., as we are already in Europe,” Egger Chief Technology Officer Walter Schiegl said when he announced the new plant.
A year earlier, Grasser first contacted Ryan Nance, EDPNC business recruitment manager, to discuss North Carolina as a potential location. Egger knew North Carolina offered a prime central East Coast location within two days’ truck drive of most of the U.S. population. But the company also had very exacting site requirements.
They included access to a reliable supply of wood chips, sawdust and slab pieces – sawmill byproducts that are the raw material of particle board. Egger also needed an industrial site with 200 flat-as-possible acres and no wetlands, redundant electric power capacity, a high-pressure natural gas connection, and onsite rail service.
The company also valued workforce development support. Davidson County Community College will be a key partner there. For example, “we have an apprenticeship program in our company where we train about 250 young adults every year in our Egger locations, where they learn a profession and earn a degree,” Grasser said. “This is also something we want to implement in the U.S.”
From the outset, Nance focused on understanding the company and its priorities. “Ryan found out who we are, what we do in our first conversations,” Grasser said. “He was a great help in finding possible sites in North Carolina and getting us their data, facilitating meetings and contacts.”
The EDPNC, for example, arranged meetings between Egger and North Carolina State University forestry experts and Mount Gilead, N.C.-based Jordan Lumber & Supply, to convince Egger that the area’s timber industry could supply enough wood byproduct for the large plant.
In addition, Nance, state Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland and Steve Googe, then head of the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, visited Egger’s headquarters in St. Johann. Egger has 17 plants in seven European countries, one in Argentina, plus the one being built in North Carolina and another in Poland.
“Despite being a large company, they are family oriented in terms of how they take care of their employees,” Nance said of his visit. “I was also struck by how clean their manufacturing facilities are, their sustainable business practices, their partnership with the local community.”
As Egger’s focus turned more to the I-85 Corporate Center, Googe led efforts to close the deal. His partners included the EDPNC, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners, the city of Lexington, Davidson Water Inc., Duke Energy, Norfolk Southern Railroad, the North Carolina Railroad Company and the Golden LEAF Foundation.
The North Carolina Railroad Company, for example, is investing $3.5 million to connect the Davidson County site to Norfolk Southern’s mainline, providing Egger and any future tenants critical access to freight rail service.
“It also took an incredible partnership with Duke Energy,” said Craig Goodson, who succeeded Googe after he retired as head of the local economic development commission. “They stepped in to reroute a major transmission line at the site so that Egger could locate there.”
Egger is the first major development at the 430-acre, county-owned I-85 Corporate Center, where the company plans to ultimately build on 200-plus acres.
The Egger project “accelerated all the infrastructure that needed to be extended to the park,” Goodson said. “Now we have three lots, each one between 50 and 90 acres, that are available to other users. Egger is a great company. So the goal is to be patient and attract two or three more companies that will provide that same type of employment opportunity in Davidson County.”
About the author: Mary Wilson is public relations and communications manager at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
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