Mac Williams admits it grudgingly — after being prodded a few times. Yes, the president of the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce concedes, it hurt when Burlington-based Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings decided to put a billing center in Greensboro. But he says it didn’t sting when LabCorp’s CEO told a press conference Guilford County’s labor pool was a better fit for the project.
The medical-testing company will invest about $4 million. The center will open by June and create 350 jobs within three years, not including about 50 transferred from other locations. If all goes as planned, LabCorp will get nearly $900,000 in incentives, including $275,000 from the state. The $373,000 from Greensboro and $248,000 from Guilford County is only $17,000 more than Burlington and Alamance County offered.
A big consideration was labor. In announcing the project, CEO David King said company surveys indicated Guilford County might be better because LabCorp already employs the vast majority of Alamance County workers who would be qualified for the jobs.
That comment didn’t bother him, Williams says, because he interpreted the labor issue as one of quantity more than quality, though he admits it was expressed in a way open to other interpretations. Besides, labor wasn’t the only factor. The company wanted to take advantage of a good real-estate opportunity, he says. “I think if I asked David King to sit down with any CEO in the country and help me sell them on bringing an operation here, he would be a big booster of the labor force.”
This wasn’t the first time a homegrown company had spurned Burlington for its larger neighbor. The most famous episode occurred 75 years ago, when Burlington Mills, started 12 years earlier, moved headquarters to Greensboro for better rail access to New York. It became Burlington Industries, the world’s largest textile company before falling into bankruptcy and becoming part of International Textile Group, still based in the Gate City.
With about 3,300 employees in Alamance, LabCorp is the county’s largest private-sector employer. Its operations dominate downtown Burlington, where it opened a new headquarters building less than two years ago. Even as he announced the billing center, King reaffirmed the company’s commitment to the city where it began as Biomedical Laboratories in 1969, praising it and the county for creating a business-friendly environment.
Williams is just glad the project didn’t end up farther away. Greensboro, after all, isn’t a long commute. “Ultimately,” he says, “what’s good for LabCorp is good for us.”