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Park Progress

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 15, 2024
Brian Rector, CFO of Coastal Beverage Co., stands in the company’s warehouse at Pender Commerce Park, a location that Rector says has helped his company grow. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
Pender County is seeing its Field of Dreams endeavor bear fruit, as Pender Commerce Park grows and thrives.

The planning began in the early 2000s when the county wanted to create an economic driver on its largely rural west side. Officials teamed up with Wilmington Business Development to focus on developing about 400 county-owned acres along U.S. 421, just north of the New Hanover County line. 

“In 2013 we took the property through the Duke Site Readiness Program and the first tenant, Acme Smoked Fish, was recruited shortly after,” said Scott Satterfield, CEO of WBD. “Acme has since been joined by Berkshire Hathaway-owned Empire Distributors, FedEx Freight, Coastal Beverage and the first foreign direct investment in the park – Polyhose – a manufacturer and distributor of hydraulic hose out of Chennai, India.” (Read more about Polyhose’s products in this month’s MADE feature here).

To accommodate Acme and other future tenants, Pender County built water and wastewater treatment plants on site. Piedmont Natural Gas ran its pipes into the park. In 2015, AT&T announced the installation of fiber optic cable to bring high-speed internet to the park’s future tenants. Pender Commerce Park was the first business park in North Carolina to receive the designation of AT&T Fiber Ready.

The park welcomed Brooklyn, New York-based Acme Smoked Fish in early 2015. Six months later, the company was poised to hit its five-year job target as it increased its capacity more quickly than anticipated.

Acme is not the only park tenant that has grown.

“This location and space helped us [achieve] our aggressive growth plan,” said Brian Rector, chief financial officer of Coastal Beverage Co., which moved to Pender Commerce Park about five years ago from its location on Harley Street, off Market Street in Wilmington.

Unable to add all the space it needed at the Harley Street facility, the beer, wine and soft drink distributor worked with Will Leonard, of Cape Fear Commercial, to scout alternatives. After looking at a few possibilities, Rector said his team “quickly understood that [the park] was the location for us.

“We could build almost twice the size warehouse, which allowed us to maintain good inventory levels and to continue to see strong organic growth,” Rector continued. “Our brands continue to do well. We’ve definitely seen some organic growth with the increase in [the region’s] population, and we are always looking for new brands that fit Coastal Beverage’s plans.

“We also acquired Atlantic Shores Distributors the same year we moved out here; we picked up their brands and service territory,” Rector added. “There’s quick access from here to several interstates.”

Fellow beverage company Empire Distributors had found a home at the commerce park a couple of years before Coastal Beverage began building its new facility. Other companies have followed.

“Joining those tenants in the park in recent years has been Chris Ramm, of Ramm Capital Partners/Taylor Development,” Satterfield said. “As part of a product development initiative, Ramm has worked with WBD and Pender County to stand up more than 250,000 square feet of speculative space in multiple buildings, which has since been leased to quality tenants including Colony Tire, Professional Builders Supply, Superior Pool Products, Lansing Building Products and The Home Depot. Our brokerage partner was Cape Fear Commercial.”

The largest-scale project, to date, in the park is a 300,000 square-foot cold storage facility recently developed by RL Cold and leased to the largest transportation company in the world, Maersk, Satterfield added.

The facility is operated by Maersk subsidiary Performance Team.

Another tenant, Polyhose Inc., recently announced plans to double the size of its current plant. Polyhose officials also committed to an additional 8 acres at the park, citing “more opportunities coming our way,” as the company establishes its North American presence. Polyhose, whose U.S. unit supplies hoses to automotive and construction equipment manufacturers worldwide, expects the new phase to be complete in the first quarter of 2025.

“The proof has certainly been in the pudding as far as our association with Wilmington and the local community is concerned,” Fatema Mo, Polyhose’s vice president of marketing and human resources, said in the announcement. “We hope our association continues to get stronger and we are able to look at different ways in which we can contribute to the community and grow together.”

Success stories like this help balance the reality that some prospects will get away.

A major disappointment to Pender and WBD officials was Amazon’s decision to abandon plans for a 1,000-job distribution center at the commerce park. But, said Satterfield, the company hasn’t taken all its marbles and gone away.

“Amazon has a holding in the park with plans to bring a final-mile delivery station to the market,” he said, adding that Amazon owns Lots 6 and 7. “Each deal in the park has been complex in nature but created significant jobs and tax base for the entire region.” 

A remaining asset ripe for redevelopment is the former BASF site – which the larger proposed Amazon project was tied to – that straddles New Hanover and Pender counties adjacent to the commerce park.

“The southern/brownfield parcel – more than 150 acres – represents a tremendous economic development opportunity for end users considering greater Wilmington for expansion or relocation,” Satterfield said. “The site is high and dry with good sandy soils, sits along a four-lane highway, and is less than 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington, ILM and the Port of Wilmington.”

Two years ago, the Golden LEAF Foundation gave Pender County a grant of $500,000 to clear and clean up the brownfield site. Satterfield has said WBD is “bullish” on the site’s potential.

When WBD staffers pitch Pender Commerce Park to potential tenants, what attributes do they emphasize? Satterfield ticked off a few.

“Location – proximity to Wilmington’s assets and amenities, infrastructure and competitive cost – are amongst the key advantages associated with the Pender Commerce Park,” he said. “Every client is unique; thus, the attractive attributes rank different for each respective client. With that said, this is widely recognized as one of the best industrial positions in the market and is the model for us with other business parks being developed in neighboring counties.”

“We knew the park was going to be successful, and we all know each other pretty well,” Rector said. “We continue to plan and hope for the growth of 421. From downtown Wilmington up to the park, things continue to build up.”

Satterfield said that, although “decades in the making,” the Pender Commerce Park is delivering as officials hoped.

“The Pender Commerce Park has become the premier business park in Southeastern North Carolina with over 1,000 jobs, more than 1 million square feet of industrial space under roof and more than $500 million in capital expenditure investment represented at the park,” he said. “The foresight and proactive investment by Pender County in land and infrastructure has led to this string of results and helped to drive activity up and down Wilmington’s most prominent industrial corridor.”
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