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Dell may weigh many sites

6-24-04

By Marta Hummel and Nate DeGraff, Staff Writers
News & Record

A Dell Inc. manufacturing plant may not be Forsyth County's prize to lose, according to economic development officials.

Other local areas could be competing for the prize.

Published reports have pointed to Forsyth as the locus of the world's largest computer maker's plans to expand if it chooses North Carolina.

Golden LEAF Foundation, which is in charge of spending half of the state's millions from the tobacco settlement, has said it would consider giving $41 million over the next 10 years to train up to 1,900 people if the company opens a plant in the county.

Dell has made no comment on the reports.

Traditionally, the majority of companies thinking about expanding look at a range of sites in the state before narrowing in on one, said economic developers and the N.C. Department of Commerce. And Golden LEAF said that just because it is considering the grant request from Forsyth doesn't mean that the company has decided to locate in Forsyth.

The head of the Economic Development Partnership in Greensboro, Andy Burke, said Wednesday that Guilford County had also called Golden LEAF about the project.

"We certainly called when we heard that Winston-Salem had submitted a request," said Burke. He said the county decided against filing an application because the money that Golden LEAF might designate for Forsyth would be portable to any location throughout the state.

"If a project went to Charlotte or Asheville (the money) would go wherever it ended up," he said. He would not comment on whether Guilford had contacted Dell or any other technology company. Confidentiality agreements with clients prohibit the group from talking about projects, he said.

The head of Golden LEAF, Valeria Lee, said, "I don't know where the company is looking." She said she had heard the company was focusing on four counties, reported to be Forsyth, Guilford, Rockingham and Davidson. It has been reported that the company could also be considering other locations outside the state.

Golden LEAF would consider grant proposals from other areas in the state, Lee said.

The head of the Rockingham County Partnership for Economic and Tourism Development, Lisa Perry, would not comment on whether the group had contacted Golden LEAF regarding Dell, dubbed "Project Merlin."

But she said the group has requested grants from the N.C. Community College System for economic development initiatives.

It will give up to $2,500 per employee for training for the project, said Larry Keen, vice president for economic and work force development.

It would not be the first time that multiple sites in the state competed for a company. Citi Cards looked at multiple sites in the Piedmont Triad before settling on a location in an unincorporated part of Guilford County to build its call center.

Other factors point to the fact that Forsyth may not be the only location the company is looking at. A spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Commerce said, "generally business leads come to us first."

"They tell us they need to be 30 minutes from an airport or a port," said Lisa Weiner. "We try to broaden the scope a little bit and then we contact the areas that would be a good fit."

She said occasionally a company will have contacted site consultants or specific economic partnerships first, though.

If the company is considering other sites, Guilford has multiple locations that could fit Dell's needs, real estate experts said. Those sites could include Highwoods Properties' Enterprise Park on Brigham Road in west Greensboro and Rock Creek Center near the county's eastern edge.

The Carolina Corporate Center near Sedalia, home to the soon-to-be-completed Citi Cards call center, could be another option, experts said.

"You're basically looking at a 40-acre site," said Larry Gildea, senior vice president and regional director for Liberty Property Trust. "I'm not saying they're everywhere, but they're not that hard to find."

Consultants who help companies choose sites for expansions said clients usually start with a long list of communities before narrowing to three or four finalists. The region's available labor pool and cost of doing business are key factors during any weeding-out period.

"The casual observer would think the actual physical site leads the analysis, but it's to the contrary," said John H. Boyd, president of The Boyd Co. Inc., a Princeton, N.J.-based site selector that has worked with Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. "The actual physical site, the acreage, comes much later in the process."

Unlike some other companies, Dell tends to do lots of site-selection analysis with its own staff, Boyd said.

"Dell has a reputation of being very prudent and judicious in their site selection process," Boyd said. "They rarely make mistakes. They're very thorough."

Contact Marta Hummel at 373-7070 or mhummel@news-record.com

Contact Nate DeGraff at 373-7024 or ndegraff@news-record.com

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