Expansion to create 80 local jobs

Ross distribution center in Fort Mill

FORT MILL -- A new warehouse and up to 80 new jobs after five years in York County is prompting local economic development leaders to call the Ross distribution center in Fort Mill a model for future industry.

Ross Stores, a national clothing and housewares chain, recently announced plans to expand its Fort Mill distribution center by leasing a nearby warehouse. Mike Wilson, vice president of distribution, said the new facility will be used for "pack-away" merchandise, products stored for upcoming seasons. He said the expansion will likely call for up to 80 new jobs in coming months.

Ross' center in Fort Mill is a glowing success story, said Mark Farris, director of the York County Economic Development Board. Farris said the company, which first announced plans to locate its eastern distribution center in York County in 2002 with a promise to eventually hire 1,100 workers, is a good recruiting tool for prospective industry.

After five years in operation, the distribution center, which sorts, packages and tags all merchandise that originates on the East Coast, has a staff of 1,600.

Wilson said during peak seasons the staff increases to 1,900.

Wilson said Ross chose the Fort Mill site between Gold Hill Road and Carowinds Boulevard because of its central location in the Carolinas. He said the widening of Interstate 77 and overall quality of life were both attractive to top decision-makers.

"This has been a very good decision for us," Wilson said. "We've been very pleased."

Farris hopes other businesses hear that message. He often cites Ross' successes when recruiting other distribution centers to the area.

"We can say, 'This is a model of a company that's taking advantage of all the opportunities available here," he said.

While distribution jobs are often criticized for not paying as much as manufacturing opportunities, Farris said companies following the Ross model are assets to the county.

"They're a good employer, good corporate citizen, and their initial employment and investments have all increased," he said.

Katie Loughnot, vice president of investor and media relations, said Ross' success can be attributed to its business model of buying name brand and designer product lines at closeout prices and offering them at reduced rates to consumers. She said the company has plans to grow its spin-off chain, dd's DISCOUNTS, a store that will offer even lower prices on already discounted labels commonly found at retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Loughnot said traditional Ross Stores will continue expanding, too. Already with 800 stores in 27 states at the beginning of 2007, the company expects 90 new stores open this year. She said the chain plans to eventually grow to 1,500 stores.