Dietz & Watson moving out of Delanco

DELANCO — After months of waiting and public speculation, Dietz & Watson has announced it will not rebuild the Coopertown Road distribution center it lost to a massive fire last September and will instead move to the Tacony section of Philadelphia.

The move, announced by the company and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday morning, ends the bidding war between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New Jersey tried to entice the food manufacturer to rebuild, while Pennsylvania and Philadelphia courted Dietz & Watson to relocate. At stake were hundreds of jobs and thousands of dollars in taxes.

With the decision, the township and Burlington County stand to lose more than $220,000 in taxes for 2014, officials have speculated. New Jersey offered Dietz & Watson more than $30 million in incentives to remain, but the package from Pennsylvania was apparently too good to pass up.

According to Corbett’s office, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development gave Dietz & Watson a funding package that included a $2 million Pennsylvania First Program Grant and a $125,000 Guaranteed Free Training Grant, which will be used for skills training.

The company also is eligible to apply for a $5 million loan from the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund, a $2.25 million loan from the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, and $5 million in Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program funds. Dietz & Watson must apply for these funds and agree to the terms before being awarded any money.

Philadelphia also kicked in at least 13 acres of valuable real estate along the Delaware River where the new Dietz & Watson building will be located, New Jersey officials said.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our family-owned company to grow in the city and state that has supported us for 75 years,” said Louis Eni, president and CEO of Dietz & Watson and the grandson of founder Gottlieb Dietz. “We had our eye on this (Tacony) property nearly 10 years ago, when we first began plans to build a large distribution center, but it wasn’t available at the time.

“The people of Delanco, New Jersey, welcomed us, and for that we will forever be grateful. The fire was a tragedy, and the resulting cleanup impacted a lot of our neighbors. We thank them for their patience and support. Our family thought long and hard about the decision to leave New Jersey. But in the end, we believe it’s the right decision for our employees, our customers, and for the future of our company,” Eni said.

Groundbreaking at the Tacony site is expected to begin in September or October.

The Delanco site is now on the market, company spokesman Steve Aaron said.

“We’re actively looking for a buyer,” Aaron said. “The property is ready to go and shovel-ready. We’re eager to find a new owner who can return those jobs to Delanco.”

“We’re all terribly disappointed,” Mayor Bill Dillenbeck said, “but we understand they had to make a business decision.”

The mayor held out hope that Dietz & Watson might return one day, in which case “we’d welcome them with open arms.”

New Jersey had offered the company a total of $30 million in business tax credits through the Economic Development Authority’s Grow NJ program to entice it to rebuild an expanded facility on the demolished site.

Delanco also offered a separate payment-in-lieu-of-taxes proposal to try to retain the company, officials said. Details on that proposal were not available.

State Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, and Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said the New Jersey incentives were substantial but ultimately couldn’t compete with the Pennsylvania/Philadelphia proposal.

“It’s a business decision; I get that,” Allen said. “Philadelphia is giving them phenomenal property for free. It’s amazing what they’re willing to do. ... In the end, what Philadelphia and Pennsylvania (are offering) was more than what we could do.”

“We can cry sour grapes all we want, but the state of New Jersey, through the Economic Development Authority, along with Delanco put together a tremendous package,” Singleton said. “Dietz & Watson made a business decision to move elsewhere.”

Singleton and Allen said finding a new business for the Delanco land would be a top priority.

“Our job is to look forward. We made a concerted full-court press to really get this done, but (Dietz & Watson) decided to move elsewhere based on their own best interest. Now we’ll endeavor to find someone else to go there,” Singleton said.

“We’re going to do everything we can for Delanco, especially because the township is going to be the one hurt most by this,” Allen added.

Kristi Howell, president and CEO of the Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce, called the announcement “just another kick in the teeth” for the county and state.

“This is really going to hurt Delanco’s tax base,” Howell said. “The employee situation is just one part of the picture. All kinds of secondary businesses get hurt by something like this. Now it’s a question of what they do with that site.”

The 260,000-square-foot center had employed 130 people. The jobs were lost because of the fire, but the company moved many of those employees into other positions at its Pennsylvania facilities. The new center in Philadelphia is expected to create 158 jobs, in addition to the 691 jobs at current company properties in Pennsylvania.

“Any time we lose a business out of the county, especially one like Dietz & Watson, it’s a shame,” said Joseph Howarth, a member of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders. “In fact, it’s heartbreaking.”

Howarth promised “the county is going to continue to do everything it can to bring business back into Burlington.”

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  • Francesca Larson
    published this page in In The News 2014-06-25 10:14:38 -0400