ABB Group, a Swiss maker of power-transmission and -distribution equipment, is in the final stages of moving its North American headquarters from Norwalk, Conn., to Cary. It relocated for cheaper office space and because of its growing presence in the Mid-Atlantic region. In September, it announced that it will start making transmission cables in Huntersville in late 2012. Enrique Santacana is CEO of ABB North America.
The Triangle isn’t well known for its energy industry. Why Cary instead of Charlotte, which touts itself as an energy hub?
Actually, the Triangle is gaining a reputation within the power industry as a national “Smart Grid Hub” because of the growing energy presence here. There’s a lot of momentum building with so many energy companies like Progress Energy, Sensus and Elster [both makers of meters and other utility products] and now ABB headquartered here, with Duke Energy and Progress bolstering their presence in the area, with energy startups popping up, with an abundance of engineering talent here and, perhaps most importantly, with some truly world-class R&D and educational initiatives coming from the local universities. That’s one reason we’re making a $10 million investment to create a Smart Grid Center of Excellence, a testing and demonstration lab near our facilities on Centennial Campus at N.C. State University. Both Charlotte and the Triangle are becoming hotbeds of energy activity and have growing energy resources. That bodes well for North Carolina.
Wouldn’t it be easier to move headquarters executives around from a place that has more direct international flights?
Our headquarters in Connecticut was close to both the New York and Boston international airports, but that was not a major consideration compared with other more pressing factors. We’ve been very pleased with RDU International Airport and our flight access around the world.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?
The infrastructure is first-class, not only the physical infrastructure with roads and communications but also all the human resources in the Triangle. We’ve found good people, good facilities such as the universities, and we’ve established strong relationships with N.C. State University, particularly the engineering department, and the Duke University business school. This gives us a strong foundation. Our relocated employees from Connecticut and other parts of the country have found the area very much to their liking — the weather, the cost of living and things like that.
The number of North American employees has dropped from more than 15,000 to around 12,000 in about 18 months. Why?
The global economic recession has affected our employment figures just like it has every- body else’s. We’re continuing to closely monitor the economy and our markets, and we’re hopeful things will start to turn around in the near future.
Why Huntersville for the cable factory instead of somewhere in the Triangle?
ABB has a very good and long-standing relationship with Raleigh and the Triangle, but we’re also excited for the opportunity to expand our North Carolina footprint into the greater Charlotte energy market. We did a thorough search throughout North America, and the Huntersville site stood out, with an ideal combination of proximity to transportation, proximity to our suppliers, top-notch engineering talent and an attractive living environment.