Wednesday, April 24, 2024

International manufacturer expands locally with $30M investment along US 421

Kesseböhmer executives, local government officials and representatives from McKinley Building Corporation broke ground on a 93,000-square-foot Class A industrial complex Tuesday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A German company with local roots since 2007 announced a multi-million dollar phased expansion that will add more jobs and economic growth to the region in coming years.

Kesseböhmer — a global leader in kitchen storage solutions — will have a 93,000-square-foot facility built at 4031 U.S. Highway 421 N. The goal is to have construction completed by June 2024 with production beginning by 2025.

Ground broke on 10 acres Tuesday as government officials and company leaders announced the development. The Class-A industrial complex will become a hub of Kesseböhmer’s North American operations. It will consolidate two divisions: retail merchandising, which manufactures store fixtures and products, and a kitchen division that outputs accessories and cabinets.

Kesseböhmer has corporate clients that include Lidl and Walgreens; however, it also works in residential markets, a growing sector of its business, according to CEO Andre Klehm. 

“We have gained customers in Michigan and Washington state, which is proof that we can serve North America through our base in Wilmington, North Carolina,” he said.

Phase one of the project, overseen by Wilmington-based McKinley Building Corporation, will include construction for distribution and sales offices. Also, a manufacturing facility will include a state-of-the-art powder-coating factory — painting of steel — as the company specializes in metal processing. 

“It will be the finest, best engineered system, if not in the state, east of Raleigh,” said Bryan Piner, Kesseböhmer procurement manager.

According to Jan Staehler, Kesseböhmer vice president, there is enough room on the site to double the facility as well. 

“We have plans going further on, but we have to see of course,” Staehler said.

Kesseböhmer is a global manufacturer with 70 years experience and a home base in Bad Essen, Germany; it employs over 3,500 people worldwide across its 12 production facilities. The family operation opened its Wilmington outpost 16 years ago. The company’s first sales director, David Ivey, was based in the region and had started the first kitchen furniture business here, Staehler said.

“Seven years ago, the store fixture business, KRM, came as well,” he added, speaking about the retail merchandising side of Kesseböhmer. “Afterwards, of course, we had a lot of considerations on where to go and where to build.”

The team looked at multiple sites in the tri-county region to invest in a $30 million headquarters. Leland was on the table, Piner said, as well as other areas in Brunswick and Pender counties.

However, the 421 corridor’s appeal in New Hanover County was solidified by convenience to the Port of Wilmington, connecting the company to supply chains globally. 

“It’s also convenient to the availability of suppliers in eastern and central North Carolina,” Piner said.

The investment put toward infrastructure along 421 added to the appeal. Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has invested $15.5 million for water and sewer services across 982 acres to be developed. New Hanover County provided amost $1.6 million for fire suppression services and the City of Wilmington contributed easements.

“Successful economic development does not happen in a vacuum,” Wilmington Business Development director Scott Satterfield said. WBD is a nonprofit that fosters economic growth and has been working with Kesseböhmer and government officials on the company’s plans. 

New Hanover Commissioner Chair Bill Rivenbark told a crowd of 75 or so on Tuesday that funneling the infrastructure money into the area has been prime for the county’s “economic vitality.” He also said it builds upon international relationships, showing the county can add to increased efficiencies for industrial companies.

Satterfield said money put toward that part of the region already has yielded “lucrative dividends.”  

“If you have driven up this corridor in recent times, you’ve noticed a lot of change and that has certainly been driven in part by the great level of investment that has been created to bring the water and sewer and other important infrastructure to this corridor,” he said.

Just in the last year, multiple nearby projects have been under construction, including the Wilmington Trade Center, across from the Kesseböhmer site, and Treeline Industrial Park.

According to Ken Dull, founder of McKinley Building Corporation, the Kesseböhmer project has been two years in the making.

“This is a tip of the iceberg, as I’ll call it, for what can still happen out here in this corridor,” Dull said. “It takes a long time for a train to kind of get its momentum going, and the infrastructure that’s here now is 20 years in the making.”

Kesseböhmer’s growth will mean more jobs for the region. Currently, it employs 16 to 25 people locally, Piner said, but company leaders expect that to double with the first phase. 

“This is a day we have anticipated for some time,” Klehm said at the groundbreaking. “The consolidation of our company’s presence in the location is a long wait for staff that will move operations under one roof and set the stage for additional growth in our business and our workforce.”

Klehm also noted the proximity to UNCW and CFCC as important to help train future and current employees. The region’s quality of life along the shoreline has been compelling to recruit worldwide employees to the region, he added. 

“Wilmington has helped our US operations emerge from a small sales office to a strategic presence that will soon accommodate distribution manufacturing and executive offices for two of our North American divisions,” he said.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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