Electric cable manufacturer jolts N.C. job growth

By Environmental Entrepreneurs

Just north of Charlotte in Huntersville, N.C., a concrete tower soars more than 40 stories above the surrounding pine trees. The tower is the most distinguishing feature of a new manufacturing plant built by ABB Inc., which is the North American division of ABB Group, a Swiss-based power and automation-industry manufacturer. Opened on schedule in September 2012, the $90 million, 240,000-square-foot cable factory is the most recent development in the rapid expansion of ABB’s North American division.

Based in Cary, N.C., ABB Inc. employs approximately 2,000 workers across the state, including 120 in Huntersville. These employees account for 10 percent of ABB’s North American workforce. For the Huntersville facility, ABB committed to investing at least $84 million and hiring 100 local workers – targets that it had surpassed by the end of 2012.

Local and state incentives were key factors in attracting ABB to the Charlotte area, said company spokeswoman Melissa London.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Economic Incentive Committee helped provide financing to the Huntersville plant’s construction with a $2.15 million Job Development Investment Grant. The One North Carolina Fund contributed an additional $400,000. A worker-training program at Central Piedmont Community College is turning out skilled engineers to support ABB’s growing workforce, while the town of Huntersville and Mecklenburg County are each offering tax rebates. Federal incentives, including $12.3 million in funding from the 2009 federal stimulus package, also nurtured ABB Inc.’s expansion in the state.

In addition to creating skilled jobs and stimulating the local manufacturing base, the Huntersville plant is producing high-voltage cables to help upgrade the national electric grid. The plant’s cylindrical tower allows for the manufacture of concentric cables with solid, flexible insulation as opposed to petroleum-filled insulation, so less oil is used in production. The high-tech cables are made for underground use, which is important for transmitting power through environmentally sensitive areas. And no overhead lines mean fewer outages caused by storms.

ABB_Huntersville

The factory will produce direct current (DC) cables that are smaller, lighter, and more efficient than their alternating current (AC) counterparts. The cables offer significant advantages for utilities, consumers, and renewable energy projects like wind farms.

The ABB Group operates in more than 100 countries and employs about 145,000 people around the world.

“We are the world’s largest transmission and distribution supplier – no matter what makes the power, it has to get to where it’s going and we take care of that,” London said.

Energy efficiency incentives and federal, state, and local financing to support business development have been crucial in driving ABB’s growth in the United States. In return, the company’s advanced high-voltage cables are making our country more energy efficient and less reliant on oil.

Photo credit: ABB