Morinaga Celebrates Hi-Chew Factory Opening

You may have seen the Japanese candy Hi-Chew on the shelves of stores like Target, CostCo and Walmart. It’s chewy, comes in a variety of fruit flavors and is now being made in North Carolina.

The makers of Hi-Chew, a Japanese company called Morinaga America Foods Incorporated, opened their first American production facility in Mebane, North Carolina.

The building’s grand opening was celebrated Thursday by the company’s top executives, local and state officials and by Governor Pat McCrory, who is a personal fan of the treat.

Governor Pat McCrory speaking at Morinaga Grand Opening. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Governor Pat McCrory speaking at Morinaga Grand Opening. Photo via Blake Hodge.

“I took every color and I’ve been eating it ever since. And now to have it made in North Carolina will mean a lot to our country and to our state.”

Beyond the governor’s fondness for the sweet, he said the facility is the beginning of what he hopes to be a long relationship with Morinaga.

“When this great management team came to visit me, I knew we had something special. I knew we had to develop this great partnership and friendship that would last generations.”

The grand opening was held outside the new 120,000 square foot Hi-Chew factory in Mebane. During the ceremony, Morinaga’s president and CEO, Toshiaki Fukunaga, spoke about his experience working in North Carolina.

“When I began working here, I expected that North Carolina, Orange County and Mebane would be a wonderful environment, easy access and excellent workforce. After working here for two years, my expectations were surpassed and I now know that NC means ‘nothing compares.’”

Sake Barrel at Morinaga Grand Opening. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Sake Barrel at Morinaga Grand Opening. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Morinaga’s $40 million investment has helped to employ over 80 people, and according to Mebane Mayor Glendel Stephenson, the company plans to continue expanding.

“They have plans to double this plant within the next few years. That’s going to double employment.”

Increased employment opportunity is a focus for Steve Brantley, the director of Orange County Economic Development.

“Let’s keep our focus on the ultimate benefactors of this kind of success which are these people that get jobs here.”

The event ended with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a traditional Japanese breaking of the sake barrel. The barrel was filled with Hi-Chew candy that Governor McCrory tossed into the crowd.

The factory is currently in production and is distributing Hi-Chew candies throughout North Carolina and the U.S.

Morinaga Candy Factory Construction In OC To Begin “In A Couple Of Weeks”

Construction on the new the Morinaga candy factory near Mebane will begin in about two or three weeks, according to Steve Brantley, Orange County’s economic development director.

County leaders pulled together state and local resources to offer a $2.5 million economic incentives package to entice the top-selling Japanese confectionary to open its first American production facility in the Buckhorn Economic Development District.

Brantley said the pressure is on to follow through on those promises.

“We really do not have much time right now to think about being happy with our success because we have a lot to do,” Brantley said.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners offered Morinaga performance-based incentives, including a $1 million dollar grant to be paid out over the next five years. The grant money would represent three-quarters of the annual tax value of the $34 million dollar facility.

In April, Brantley said the County will begin utility work to deliver water and sewer services to the 21-acre property. The County is partnering with the state to cover the cost of extending water and sewer infrastructure, at an estimated cost of about $700,000. The state will pay 75 percent of that; the county will pay 25 percent.

In the next several weeks, the state Department of Transportation will begin building an access road to the property at a cost of about half a million dollars. Duke Energy and PSNC Energy will set up electric and gas lines as well.

The Orange County Branch of the state Division of Workforce Solutions will help Morinaga to staff the factory, which will create about 90 jobs. DurhamTechnical Community College will offer training to new workers at no charge.

The 100,000-square-foot factory, to be located off I-40 across from the Tanger Outlets, will manufacture the “Hi-Chew” fruit candy.

“By the end of this year, they hope to have a finished shell building and then spend the first six months of 2015 installing machinery, leading up to a June or July opening,” Brantley said.

Brantley said Morinaga leaders have indicated its operations in Orange County could be expanded multiple times over the next decade.

“This company is an illustration of what the county has said it has wanted to do over the past three or four years—which is to diversify the company into attracting non-residential business, both commercial and clean-light assembly operations [to the area],” he said.

Brantley said he believes that the new water and sewer infrastructure in the Buckhorne Economic Development District will attract more companies, both international and domestic, to the area.

“We are also trying to leverage our good news to new prospects that are aware of Orange County in terms of the Morinaga vote of confidence in us.”

Morinaga and Company was founded in 1899 in Tokyo. It produces a wide variety of confectioneries, including chocolates, cookies, and frozen desserts. Its products became available in the U.S. five years ago.

Japanese Candy Co. To Open Operations In OC

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CHAPEL HILL – A top-selling Japanese candy company announced plans Tuesday to build a new facility in Mebane, creating 90 new jobs and investing $48 million over the next three years.

Barry Jacobs, Chair of the Orange County Commissioners, says it is a sweet deal for the area in more ways than one.

“It will not only give a boost in becoming a large employer in Orange County, but we hope it will also help to stimulate other companies that would like to locate and identify with a quality, international company,” Jacobs says.

Morinaga and Company, the top-selling candy manufacturer in Japan, was founded in 1899 in Tokyo. It produces a wide variety of confectioneries, including chocolates, cookies, and frozen desserts. Its products became available in the U.S. five years ago.

The company’s subsidiary operations in Mebane will consist of blending syrup, sugar, flavorings and other ingredients to produce soft candy, the Associated Press reports. The site, set to open mid-2015 in the Buckhorn Economic Development District, is the firm’s first American manufacturing enterprise.

The Orange County Economic Development Department, led by director Steve Brantley, fronted the efforts to recruit the manufacturer. To land the project, Orange County survived five rounds of visits from Morinaga consultants since the county first tried to attract the company in February 2012.

“We beat out 18 sites in approximately 12 North Carolina counties,” Brantley says “Other places outside the state that has been considered seriously included Toronto, Canada, Richmond, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and even Portland, Oregon.”

Brantley says Morinaga ultimately choose the Mebane site, near the Tanger Outlet mall, because of interstate visibility, a high confidence in the area’s work force, and the presence of UNC and Durham Tech, which will handle the critical training for the company.

Contingencies before the project can be finalized and construction begun include road accessibility, a supply of electricity and natural gas, and water and sewer extensions. Those improvements are planned to be funded by city, county and state performance grants.

Several other factors, Jacobs explains, played a key in making the project possible, including the rezoning of the district.

“Two years ago, the county made decisions to rezone it, and last year, the County Commissioners made decisions to rezone it, hoping that we would land a corporate client and it worked,” Jacobs says.

The 120,000 square-foot facility will offer health and retirement benefits for Morinaga employees. These jobs will be created over three years, offering competitive salaries, averaging more than $38,000 a year, according to a statement issued by Orange County.

“We’re trying in several different ways to use areas that we have previously zoned for economic development to provide more jobs and keep our non-residential tax base growing,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs also cites the use of the quarter-cent sales tax for funding economic development incentives.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the voters who voted for the quarter-cent sales tax a few years back because half of that quarter-cent goes toward economic development,” Jacobs says. “The largest percentage goes to providing infrastructure, in this case water and sewer, for our economic development district.”

Jacobs says the company will be in the top ten employers for the County.