Dietz & Watson awarded $30 million to stay in Delanco

DELANCO — Dietz & Watson has been awarded $30 million in state assistance to help rebuild its mammoth distribution center, which was lost to a massive fire last fall.

But the company on Tuesday said it is still uncertain if it will rebuild in Delanco.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority on Monday awarded the family-owned hot dog and deli meat company $3.08 million in annual tax credits over 10 years to rebuild at its site off Coopertown Road.

The building was destroyed by an 11-alarm fire that began Sept. 1.

Rebuilding the plant is expected to save 135 existing jobs and create 213 new ones, including construction jobs, according to an authority memo.

But Dietz & Watson officials said Tuesday they have not made a final decision on where they would construct a 16,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse, a 25,000-square-foot building for its corporate offices, and a 16,000-square-foot garage.

"We are delighted and grateful that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority has approved our application for state assistance," company CEO Louis J. Eni Jr. said. "As I've said from the very start, in the days immediately after the fire, rebuilding in Delanco was our first choice. However ... we still have not yet made our final decision on the location of the distribution center. We applied for the state assistance from New Jersey as part of our due diligence, but just because that assistance was approved does not necessarily mean that is where we will rebuild.

"We have to make a decision that is in the best interest of our family business, our employees and loyal customers."

The company has 12 months to obtain site approval and to commit financing for the rebuilding project. If it doesn't, the authority may revoke the award.    

Eni said he hoped to have a final decision made "in the next couple of weeks and look forward to sharing it with all of you."

Delanco Mayor Bill Dillenbeck and Councilwoman Kate Fitzpatrick said they would reserve comment until Dietz & Watson makes a final decision.

The tax credits are being awarded through the authority's Grow New Jersey program, which was revamped last summer to make it easier for small businesses to qualify for tax breaks and grants, particularly those in the poorest cities and in eight South Jersey counties, including Burlington.

The revamp was part of the Economic Opportunity Act passed by the state Legislature and signed into law last summer.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco,  who was among the co-sponsors of the Economic Opportunity Act, said the ability to keep Dietz & Watson in Burlington County was further evidence of the importance of the new law.

“When we crafted the Economic Opportunity Act, while this project wasn’t specifically in mind, I think the changes we made helped here,” Singleton said. “Under the old rules, rebuilding and reconstruction may not have been eligible.

“This is further evidence of the work done in respect of the Economic Opportunity Act. The ability to keep a Dietz & Watson in Delanco. I’m proud to have played a small role,” he said.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, who was also a sponsor of the Economic Opportunity Act, said providing incentives to companies like Dietz & Watson was why the law was written. 

"It's unfortunate they suffered the loss, but this shows how the law can pay dividends for Delanco and the surrounding communities," he said.

Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, agreed the EDA award was a huge step to convincing Dietz & Watson to stay.

"At the end of the day, they're going to choose what's best for their company, but I'm hoping it's Delanco," Allen said. "They're a great company and it's certainly my hope they'll rebuild there. I'm there to help in any way I can."

Long term, the tax credits are expected to result in a net benefit of $124 million for the state over 20 years, according to the authority.

The Sept. 1 fire started on the roof of the distribution center and quickly spread throughout the entire 300,000-square-foot warehouse. Hundreds of firefighters from the county and beyond responded, but were hampered by water supply problems as well as danger posed by scores of solar panels on the roof.

No serious injuries were reported, but the Delanco fire chief broke his ankle battling the blaze, which raged for nearly three days and kept firefighters on-site for weeks extinguishing hot spots and flare-ups.

Ash carried for miles, along with odors from burned and spoiled deli meat.

Allen said the water supply issues that hampered firefighters during the fire remains a concern but she was hoping it could still be addressed.

Since the fire, Dietz & Watson has temporarily leased space in Vineland and relocated the majority of the local staff and operations to its manufacturing facility and headquarters in Philadelphia.

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