European Fashion Retailer Establishes U.S. Presence in Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on September 3, 2015

The Primark grand opening ceremony was attended by (left to right) Aidan Shields, Primark CFO; Paul Marchant, Primark CEO; Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, and Jose Luis Martinez De Larramendi, president of Primark U.S. Corp.

The Primark grand opening ceremony was attended by (left to right) Aidan Shields, Primark CFO; Paul Marchant, Primark CEO; Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, and Jose Luis Martinez De Larramendi, president of Primark U.S. Corp. Photos courtesy of Primark.

A leading European fashion retailer has established its first presence in the northeastern United States in the Lehigh Valley, another in a long list of international companies entering the region.

Primark, an Irish company, and Exel, the North American leader in contract logistics, announced the opening of a 677,080 square-foot distribution center in the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII in Bethlehem on Sept. 3.

“The entire team at Primark is thrilled to be opening our Bethlehem distribution center and to contribute to this robust community,” said Paul Marchant, Primark CEO. “This centrally-located facility is a cornerstone to our plans in officially launching our business in the Northeast, and this opening marks a key milestone for the Primark board.”

The facility will provide about 100 jobs and will serve as Primark’s primary distribution center for the Northeast, where the company plans to open eight retail stores by the end of 2016.

The Lehigh Valley has become an increasingly strong market for international companies in recent years, according to Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) President and CEO Don Cunningham.

About one-third of LVEDC’s current prospects are from outside the country, and several major international companies have established a presence here in recent months. They include Safran, a major multi-national aerospace company, and Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co., the first Chinese-owned manufacturer to locate in Pennsylvania.

“If an international company is looking to break into the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic market in the United States, they’re finding that the Lehigh Valley is the perfect place to do it,” Cunningham said. “With our proximity to major northeastern markets, like New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, the Lehigh Valley is within a day’s drive of about one-third of all U.S. consumers.”

Primark, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods plc, is one of Europe’s largest clothing retailers, with 290 stores and 62,000 employees in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and France.

“I am honored to welcome Primark into the community and to have Bethlehem supporting the thrilling expansion of this noted brand here in the U.S.,” Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez said at the grand opening event.

Exel will manage the warehouse operations by leveraging Primark’s proven operational and systems model that has been utilized in the UK and Europe for the past six years, according to Dan McNutt, the company’s senior vice president of retail.

“We are excited to support Primark’s stores in the Northeast and help them grow their fashion brand in another market,” McNutt said. “With Exel managing the distribution center and transportation services for Primark, the company can focus on their customers.”

Exel will also be responsible for transporting merchandise to Primark’s stores.

Primark’s first U.S. store will launch in Sept. 10 in Boston’s Downtown Crossing shopping district, and a second store will open in King of Prussia in November. Other upcoming Primark locations including Burlington, Mass.; Danbury, Conn.; Freehold, N.J.; Braintree, Mass.; Willow Grove, Pa.; and Staten Island, N.Y.

In addition to Safran and Taizhou Fuling, the Lehigh Valley has seen several expansions or additions from international companies over the past 18 months. Others include SunOpta Inc., a Canadian organic foods company; Mountain Warehouse, a London-based outdoor clothing retailer; and I2R Nanowave, a Canadian aerospace equipment manufacturer.

They join an already-strong base of existing international companies in the Lehigh Valley, including such companies Olympus Corp., B. Braun, Nestlé, Mack Trucks, Sodexo, Bosch Rexroth, Porsche, BMW, FLSmidth, and Lafarge.

This summer, LVEDC embarked on an international business development tour to attract foreign direct investment, with stops in Germany, France, and England. The tour included daily direct marketing to prospective companies, including visits with international prospects with which LVEDC had already been previously engaged.

Several European companies expressed an interest in establishing U.S. locations in the Lehigh Valley as a result. The four included meetings with three French companies, including a large multi-national pharmaceutical company and a food producer; a meeting with company in England that has shortlisted the Lehigh Valley as a possible home for its first U.S. operation; and a presentation before 25 German business leaders in Dortmund.

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