MSC Industrial Supply Company: A Tale of Two Cities
MSC Industrial Supply Company is truly settling into the area; it moved into its new Davidson, N.C., headquarters building in August 2013. But MSC has been in business in Melville, N.Y., since its beginnings in 1941. And it’s still there, too.
“It’s a little unique,” said Doug Jones, MSC’s executive vice president and chief supply chain officer, explaining the strategy behind having co-headquarters in the Charlotte area and on Long Island. “As we started to grow, I started to look at different alternatives and different options.” It’s more common than you would think, he said, especially using technology. “People can work remotely, manage remotely — we have a lot of video capabilities.” He said this just after wrapping up a video conference with New York.
“We did a nationwide search. We looked at a lot of different variables and a lot of things that were important to us to try to find the right location to complement our New York headquarters,” said Jones. Austin, Texas, was initially high on the list, “but we ruled that out because of logistics. We wanted our managers to get to that new location quickly or fly into a morning meeting and out that night.”
While Charlotte’s airport was important, Jones said, “The biggest reason we moved to this co-location strategy was just access to a bigger pool of talent.” MSC, which services durable manufacturers, employs a varied workforce. He said that MSC, with revenues of about $3 billion, deals with more than 300,000 companies on a daily basis, from large manufacturers such as John Deere to “mom-and-pop shops and manufacturing companies that feed a lot of these companies.”
Finance and IT are easy-to-fill disciplines in Melville, particularly with Manhattan close by. “But certain areas that are more in our specialty areas — product management people who have industry savvy, people who are supply-chain savvy – those people are a little more challenging to get on an island where you don’t have a lot of distribution expertise or a lot of manufacturing,” said Jones.
“We looked for a location that would be a rich population of talent for the types of people who we were going to be recruiting for the next 10-plus years, and Charlotte came up very high on that radar. There’s a real diverse range of industries here — some of the supplier base we deal with on a daily basis… a lot of institutions and schools that feed into the labor force.” Every department is represented in the Davidson headquarters.
MSC offered Charlotte relocation to virtually all 650 of its Melville associates, and about 125 people accepted the opportunity. “Everybody from realtors to the mayor [then Anthony Foxx] to the Charlotte Chamber helped educate our folks” during pre-decision visits, Jones said.
Cost of living was a factor, with younger people able to afford the home they could not buy in Long Island. Jones also cited other factors. “The arts and sports, we knew they were important to our people because they were used to it in New York,” Jones said. “Charlotte edged out Raleigh because we felt there was more outside work to do here.”
Once MSC decided to move, the chamber helped facilitate connections with some of the other companies that had recently relocated, including Electrolux. “They had nothing to gain or lose,” said Jones, “but they told us straight what to expect and it was tremendously helpful.”
As part of incentive programs with the state, MSC made a commitment to create 400 jobs in the next five years, and 18 months later, with 350 associates in the new building, Jones said he had no concerns about reaching that number. “We found Charlotte very easy to do business with. They know how to get things done.” The goal was to get everyone in before the 2013 school year began.
“All the things that have to happen to build a big building, that can be a lot of red tape — and we’ve seen that in other destinations we’ve built — whenever we ran into any obstacles, they were right there,” Jones said, naming everyone from the state, the county and the town of Davidson to different authorities, such as the development corporation in Lake Norman. Though most people said it could not be done, the building was completed in 10 months.
With work from local artists on the walls, North Carolina stone on the floors and names such as Kitty Hawk and Lake Gaston on its meeting rooms, MSC quickly made itself at home in Davidson. Jones said the company has enjoyed working with charitable organizations in the region, and has sponsored car shows and a road race benefiting the Davidson Lands Conservancy. “It’s been great for our associates to see,” he said.
Jones said the company owns a little more than 14 acres at the site, with an option to build a sister building next door. “We have high growth ambitions and plans for the next five or 10 years,” he said. “This was a big investment for MSC, with enough potential growth to support us for a very long time.”