September 18, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Peach Ice Cream Sweetened Deal for Pharmavite To Locate Plant in Opelika

Pharmavite chose the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park for its $74 million dietary supplement plant, but it may have been a visit to Clanton's Peach Park that helped Alabama lick South Carolina in the competition for the project.

Anyone who has enjoyed peach ice cream at the iconic stop off Interstate 65 can attest to its magical properties. The magic is intensified on a 100-plus degree day like when representatives from Project Omega -- the code name for what would be revealed as Pharmavite -- stopped there while scouting sites in the state.

No one would suggest ice cream drove the decision to invest millions of dollars to build a 330,000-square-foot plant and hire 280 workers. Pharmavite and its site consultants carefully considered all of the factors that go into making the prudent choice -- supply chain costs, utility expenses, tax rates, labor and real estate availability.

But the state and local economic development team that worked with Project Omega built the rapport that led to Pharmavite choosing a 50-acre site in Opelika for its manufacturing and distribution facility so serve its east coast customers with Nature Made soft gel and tablet vitamins and dietary supplements.

That team consisted of Gary Faulkner at the Alabama Development Office, Lee Lawson at Power South, Gary Weaver at AIDT and Lori Huguley and Alison Mueller with the Opelika Economic Development Office. ADO Director Greg Canfield and Gov. Robert Bentley would be called upon to close the deal with Pharmavite in the end.

Mark Byers and Deborah McGill of Birmingham's EGS Commercial Real Estate Inc., were also key members of the team, offering up several sites in the state through the firm's alliance with Cushman & Wakefield.

Cushman & Wakefield Global Business Consulting's Andy Mace was the site consultant on the project. John Minervini of Cushman & Wakefield's Los Angeles office also represented Pharmavite in its search.

Initially, Pharmavite looked at more than 50 sites from around half a dozen states. When that got whittled down to around a dozen sites, Mace said company officials wanted to personally visit the finalists.

Five of those sites were in Alabama. The state then had three sites that made the next cut: The Opelika site and existing buildings in Birmingham and Montgomery.

The company was working on a rapid timetable and felt like it needed an existing building of around 350,000 square feet. However, Pharmavite officials said they would consider a raw land site if a construction timetable could have the new facility up and running by early 2013.

Pharmavite is based in California, a state where construction permitting and building approvals are notoriously slow, so it's understandable if officials felt like building from scratch would take too long. Opelika officials convinced Pharmavite that although other aspects of Southern life are slow, dirt could be turned and the building built in time.

It was a sign of the trust Pharmavite officials had in the Alabama team, Mace said.

"They had a real confidence in the local team and the state of Alabama to do what they said they would do," Mace said.

Another reason Pharmavite initially did not want to have to build a new plant from scratch was a concern juggling construction while trying to hire and train 280 workers.

Enter AIDT's Weaver who explained why Alabama's worker training program is its ultimate secret weapon in recruiting new industry. AIDT handles the advertising, application screening and worker training and has workers ready for Pharmavite to hire.

By the time members of the recruitment team and officials with the company sat down for dinner at Joe's Italian restaurant in Alabaster, they had established a good relationship.

After the company announced it was coming to Opelika at a press conference last week, Ron Pillsbury, vice president of operations at Pharmavite, said the professionalism and thoroughness of the economic development team in Alabama was a major factor.

"We felt very comfortable in choosing this community," he said. "The reception we've received has just been incredible."

The project became the largest one yet for Canfield and Bentley to have to close for the state. Mace said they looked like seasoned pros. At the press conference, the governor thanked Pharmavite for taking a risk on the state with the $74 million project. Mark Walsh, the chief operating officer, responded by telling Bentley it was no risk at all due to the level of trust Pharmavite has in the state.

EGS's Byers said the trust was earned even in the short time of the recruitment. The company first contacted local officials in May.

"You never really know what turns a company towards a certain location," Byers said. "There are quantifiable elements and there are intangibles and it appears the intangibles made a difference in this case."

When all of the factors come together, the results can be just, well, peachy.



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