Southwest Wake News

Fuquay-Varina looks to 'Big 4' businesses for opportunities

A TE Connectivity worker adds the end clips to a plastic wire cover in the company’s Fuquay-Varina facility.
A TE Connectivity worker adds the end clips to a plastic wire cover in the company’s Fuquay-Varina facility.

Nestled within the borders of what used to be a small tobacco town are four major global manufacturing companies.

The “Big 4” – John Deere Turf Care, TE Connectivity, Southbend and Bob Barker Co. – employ a total of more than 1,500 people.

Through the Big 4 initiative, which launched in November, Fuquay-Varina hopes to harness the power of the companies to lure businesses and workforce training.

The town has applied for a $25,000 grant from the John Deere Foundation to market the Big 4. It also applied for a federal workforce-development grant.

Fuquay-Varina also hopes to be designated as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, a federal program that aims to encourage manufacturing and create jobs. Under the designation, the town might have a better shot at getting grant money.

Each of the Big 4 companies faces operating challenges that range from recycling services to finding adequate warehouse space nearby.

Under the town’s umbrella program, the companies have banded together to share best practices and find solutions.

For example, each company pays a separate contractor for recycling services to divert large amounts of metals, plastics and cardboard from the landfill.

It might make more sense to convince a recycling contractor to build a center in Fuquay-Varina to serve the large manufacturers, said Rosalind Fox, factory manager for John Deere Turf Care, which has been making commercial mowing, golf and turf equipment in Fuquay-Varina since 1997.

“We’re looking at some simple things like shared cleaning services, catering,” Fox said. “We don’t have an on-site cafeteria, but if we could have someone who could bring in food on a regular schedule it would be a benefit we could offer our employees – a huge morale booster.”

The companies are working with Fuquay-Varina Economic Development Director Jim Seymour to review the services they use and see if they can find some local vendors.

“It’s a good public and private-sector partnership,” Fox said. “Through that you can have a community thrive.”

Fox continued: “It’s important for us to be a good corporate citizen, to help provide job opportunities locally and help the opportunity for growth.”

The companies, which meet at least once a quarter, are already sharing best practices.

Last month, David Sears with the Bob Barker Co. met with representatives from the other three companies to share information about the business’s solar panel rooftop project that was completed in 2012.

The worldwide detention-center supplier paid about $1.5 million to cover 50 percent of the roof of its Purfoy Road plant with solar panels. It is one of the largest privately owned solar -panel systems in North Carolina; it will take about six years for the company to recover the costs associated with the project.

Already, Bob Barker has been able to cut its energy consumption in half and by more during some months, according to the company. In July 2012, the company used 160,000 kilowatt hours of energy. The following July, it used about 40,000 kilowatt hours.

Fox said it was interesting to learn how the company reduced its carbon footprint and lowered electric bills.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to be (more) efficient and reduce our costs,” she said.

Mark Johnson, senior operations manager at TE Connectivity, used the Big 4 to help develop his emergency plans.

If a tornado or fire would destroy the plant, he said, it would make sense to partner with the other companies and use their buildings as a backup.

TE Connectivity’s 119-acre site in Fuquay-Varina is the company’s North American headquarters for energy and research and development. It makes wire covers and other electric part components for companies like Duke Energy. Some of its products are sold in retail outlets such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.

The company melts plastics, but the parts are molded in other countries and then shipped back to Fuquay-Varina. As they are being assembled, the products go through Ohio, Maryland, Ecuador and Mexico.

Johnson said he would like to have a plastics manufacturer closer. It would cut down on the amount of time it takes for a product to get to a customer.

On the surface, Johnson said, all four companies seem different because they make products for different industries, but in reality they share similar issues. All center around operations and a trained workforce.

“We would stay in our world so much,” Johnson said. “Now we can see what’s new. We can benchmark against each other in a non-competitive way. You see how they the saw a problem and solved it, and you say to yourself, ‘I didn’t think of that.’ ”