July 15, 2008

Plant Asks City’s Help

By Bertrand M. Gutierrez, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

Jul. 15--A global manufacturing company with a plant in Winston-Salem might buck the job-loss trend that has hit the Triad.

Amphenol Corp., a maker of fiber-optic connectors that go into electronics such as cell phones, cable TVs and computer motherboards, is considering a $5.5 million investment to upgrade its plant in Winston-Salem and hire 54 employees, city officials said yesterday.

The possible addition of manufacturing jobs would come during an upward tick in the area's unemployment rate. In Forsyth County, for example, the rate rose to 5.5 percent in May from 4.9 percent the previous month.

Amphenol is asking for $54,000 in incentives from the city of Winston-Salem.

Yesterday, it got preliminary approval.

The finance committee of the Winston-Salem City Council voted unanimously to send the request to the full council's meeting Monday with a recommendation that it be approved.

A few council members said after the committee meeting that even in tough economic times, some companies are still doing OK.

"In an economy where so many companies are talking about laying off people, it's good to see that there are some that are thinking about adding jobs," said Wanda Merschel, a council member and the chairwoman of the finance committee.

Amphenol, based in Wallingford, Conn., has offices worldwide, from Canada to China. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol APH and has a market capitalization of nearly $8 billion. Share prices have risen about 21 percent over the past year to close at $44.71 yesterday.

Its Winston-Salem plant has 160 employees and makes components that go into the connectors, said Sharmin Arrington, the manager of the human-resources department. It specializes in insert molding and metal stamping.

Arrington said that the $5.5 million project is not set in stone and that the company is just evaluating its options.

Those options might include incentives from the county and state as well, city officials said.

As part of the agreement with the city, Amphenol would have to hire at least 54 employees and pay them a minimum average wage of $15 an hour, plus benefits.

If Amphenol hires fewer than 54 employees, the amount of the city's financial assistance would be reduced at the rate of $1,000 per position, officials said.

If Amphenol were to cease operations at the project site during the term of the agreement, it would be terminated and the company would have to repay a pro-rata portion of the annual grants allotted in the fiscal year during which operations ceased.

The $5.5 million project would create annual property-tax revenues of about $27,000 for the city. That would allow the city to recoup its investment in two years, officials said.


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