Lenovo shows off new PC plant in Guilford County

kblunt@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2013 

Johana Garcia Guardado (left) and Robin Strader assemble personal computers at Lenovo's new manufacturing plant in Whitsett. The company's expansion generated 115 new jobs in Guilford county and the surrounding area.

KATHERINE BLUNT — kblunt@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Lenovo, which late last year announced plans to begin PC production in North Carolina, showed off its new assembly plant here Wednesday to officials eager to trumpet the company’s investment in domestic manufacturing.

“Lenovo is not just maintaining operations,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in a speech at the plant’s official opening. “They’re planning to grow their manufacturing base. Manufacturing is coming back, and Guilford County is at the beginning of that process.”

The Whitsett plant began operating at the end of January and expects to employ 115 people. It will likely reach full production capacity at the end of the month.

“The way we’re staffed now, we can produce about 1,000 computers per day,” said Jeff Benes, the plant’s operations manager.

Lenovo is based in China, but its headquarters are in Morrisville, where it employs more than 2,000. It acquired IBM’s PC business in 2005 and opened an order and distribution center in Whitsett in 2008.

Lenovo is clearly hoping that making PCs in Whitsett will make them more appealing to U.S. consumers. Every box of products produced at the facility is branded with a “Made in North Carolina” sticker showing an outline of the state, its flag, and the Lenovo logo.

“This facility will improve customer service and accelerate growth and sales in North Carolina,” said Tom Looney, vice president and general manager of Lenovo North Carolina. “We have not closed the cost gap between manufacturing here and manufacturing overseas, but we are in range to bring more manufacturing to the United States and to North Carolina.”

Lenovo is ranked fourth in PC shipments in the United States, where it has been gaining on competitors such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard. The company, which is just two-tenths of a point away from grabbing the No. 1 spot in global PC sales from Hewlett-Packard, recorded a 9.8 percent year-over-year increase in PC shipments in North America in its most recent quarter.

‘Customized’ products

Dell’s latest quarterly earnings showed a 13 percent decrease in product revenue from the same quarter last year, and Hewlett-Packard’s personal systems revenue suffered a 20 percent decrease in its most recent quarter.

Looney attributes the company’s strong performance to its ability to innovate and its willingness to take risks. “Our products are unique,” Looney said. “They’re customized to meet specific needs. That’s what wins.”

Lenovo’s $2 million investment in the Whitsett plant is relatively small for a company that had revenues of $7.83 billion in its most recent quarter. But it still represents a bold move given that the PC market is struggling and most computers are made overseas.

Lenovo has been diversifying into products beyond PCs, and now sells smartphones and smart televisions in China and some other markets. But it isn’t selling those products in the United States, and it faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

Lenovo’s expansion in Whitsett has been welcome news in Guilford County, where the unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, below the statewide average of 8.9 percent.

“The opening of this facility means a lot,” said Katherine Brown, a Kernersville resident who works on the production line at the plant. “I get to do what I love to do, and everyone who works here is like family.”

Lenovo has no plans to further expand manufacturing in North Carolina. But Looney said the company will continue to promote McCrory’s interest in generating jobs in the state by working with local technical and community colleges while staying alert for growth opportunities.

“We really want to utilize the educated workforce,” he said.

Blunt: 919-829-8985

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