By ERIC BERNSEE
For The Brazil Times
Almost exactly 25 years to the day the last of the IBM Greencastle employees had vacated the sprawling Big Blue plant on the city's East Side, there was reason for economic celebration.
FB Distro, the Midwest distribution facility for Charming Shoppes Inc. -- a retail apparel chain specializing in women's plus-size apparel -- is expanding again in Greencastle.
And this time -- the company's fourth local expansion since taking over the IBM building in 1987 -- plans include 135 new jobs being created by 2014.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was on hand at the facility Wednesday afternoon, joining city and company officials to announce FB Distro's plans to invest in its distribution and logistics operations in Greencastle.
"We are proud, so proud," Gov. Daniels said, "that your business has chosen to expand in Indiana.
"Indiana is proud to have earned this expansion in a logistics sector of which we have become a national leader," the governor added.
The company will make a multi-million dollar investment over the next two years to renovate and install new material-handling equipment and warehouse management systems (sorters and conveyors) at FB Distro's existing 794,000-square-foot Greencastle facility, announced Bryan Q. Eshelman, Charming Shoppes' executive vice president and chief supply chain officer.
Once upgrades and renovations are complete, the Greencastle facility will have the capacity to service up to 2,300 stores, he said.
"We are extremely pleased to be working with the state of Indiana on our distribution operations project," Eshelman said. "Our decision to upgrade and expand our Indiana distribution facility provides the opportunity to maximize labor, inventory and transportation efficiencies."
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered FB Distro Distribution Center up to $1,140,000 in conditional tax credits and up to $73,600 in training grants based on the company's job-creation plans.
The tax credits are performance-based, meaning until Hoosiers are hired, the company is not eligible to claim incentives.
The City of Greencastle is expected to consider additional property tax abatement at the request of the Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Inc.
FB Distro services the apparel distribution needs of the company's retail stores. Overall, Charming Shoppes operates nearly 1,900 retail stores (65 in Indiana) in 48 states under the names Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Fashion Bug Plus, Cacique and Catherines Plus Sizes. Nationwide, the company has 22,000 associates.
The Indiana distribution center is located on a 123-acre site along the north side of State Road 240 in Greencastle. Originally constructed in 1945 by IBM Corp., the 350,000-square-foot facility was purchased by Charming Shoppes in 1987.
By March 1989, Charming Shoppes had completed upgrading the distribution center, expanded it to 420,000 square feet and shipped its first unit.
Since opening its doors, FB Distro has shipped more than 1.5 billion units from Greencastle to its Midwest and West Coast stores, sending out 58 million units last year alone from the local facility, Eshelman said. Over the years, the Greencastle distribution site has experienced significant growth in both the size and technology of the facility and the number of associates employed.
Today, the facility employs 195 associates and services more than 800 retail stores.
In April, the company plans to transfer the distribution servicing of its 435 Catherines Plus Sizes stores from its Maryland distribution facility to the Greencastle location, bringing the total of stores serviced to approximately 1,200 stores. It was the 195 current employees that Eshelman took time to celebrate Wednesday. The average length of service by an FB Distro employee, he said, is 13 years with 45 percent working for the company for more than 10 years and another 25 percent exceeding 20 years employment.
That stability and work ethic, he noted, were vital considerations in the company choosing Greencastle over other locations for the expansion project.
"We are extremely glad the company chose to make its investment here, and build on the project from 2006 that added to the front of the building and added a new sorter," Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Director Bill Dory said. "We look forward to their continued community success as a great corporate citizen."
The project timetable, Eshleman said, points to beginning construction on the "highly automated building" this summer.
That construction will likely last through the summer of 2013.
"We are most excited that FB Distro has once again chosen to grow their operations here in Greencastle and Putnam County," Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray offered. "FB Distro has been a great corporate citizen since first coming to the community in October 1987.
"The announcement of this investment today represents the fourth expansion of their facility in the past 25 years," she added.
"The associates here are incredible people who do wonderful things for our community," the mayor said, adding her best wishes for "another successful 25 years."
Eshelman also noted that Charming Shoppes' distribution center staff members are actively engaged in supporting community events and organizations.
In just the past six years, he said, associates have donated $40,000 to local organizations through their participation and fundraising efforts.