Bimbo Bakeries, which makes Thomas' English muffins, Entenmann's, Sara Lee and many other leading bread and cake brands, is building a new $75 million plant off Route 100 in Upper Macungie Township, the company announced early this week.
The proposed 240,000-square-foot plant on 30 acres on Boulder Drive is expected to employ 100 people when it opens next year. The company bought the property for $10.4 million in October, according to Lehigh County records.
Bimbo, a Mexican company with U.S. headquarters in Horsham, Montgomery County, is the latest in a string of food and beverage businesses to pick the Lehigh Valley for a new production facility.
Ocean Spray is building a $110 million bottling plant in Upper Macungie that will employ 165 people when it opens this year. Other beverage companies with plants in Lehigh County include Coca-Cola, Nestle Waters and Samuel Adams brewer Boston Beer Co.
Candy and nut company A.L. Bazzini, which supplies peanuts to the New York Yankees, moved its production from the Bronx to Upper Macungie in 2011.
The interest is good news for the Valley job market because local food manufacturing jobs pay about $15 an hour, more than the average in the fast-growing warehousing industry, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Food and beverage production is becoming very identifiable with the Lehigh Valley," said Don Cunningham, CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., which helped Bimbo find the site. "We've been able to find a niche in this sector of food and beverage. There's a comfort in a cluster like that. Once there's a significant brand name presence, it seems easier to attract other brands into a cluster."
Bimbo was attracted to the Valley by its proximity to major highways leading to big-city markets in the Northeast, Cunningham said. Companies also are often attracted to sites close to similar businesses since it means they will be more likely to find qualified workers, vendors and parts they'll need to keep the plant running.
Bimbo operates 70 bakeries around the country. The new plant will make breads and buns to be sold in the Northeast. The company did not announce which brands would be made locally.
In recent years, Bimbo took over a decades-old bakery on Northampton Street in Wilson where it makes hot dog and hamburger buns, Borough Councilman James McGowan said. The company has not indicated whether the new bakery in Upper Macungie will influence its operation in Wilson.
"Our new bakeries use less energy, are friendlier to the environment, allow more efficient production and help us maintain the highest quality standards," the company said in a release about the new plant. "These innovations allow us to offer consumers the best value when they purchase our products."
Bimbo is part of a Mexican company, Grupo Bimbo, which entered the U.S. baking market in 1994 and has grown through acquisitions into the country's largest breadmaker. It had U.S. sales of $4.6 billion in the first nine months of 2012, up 45.8 percent from the same period in the previous year, according to the most recent information available.
The company could get significantly larger. Bimbo is among those interested in buying Wonder Bread and other Hostess bread bands as Hostess tries to sell off its assets, The Wall Street Journal reported. Hostess in November announced it would shut down and sell its assets.
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