Westport Axle signs lease for new plant
Mack Trucks supplier will move into 517,500 square feet in Lower Macungie.
Westport Axle is heading south — by about 3 miles.
The company, a key Mack Trucks supplier, is taking 517,500 square feet at 8801 Congdon Hill Drive in Lower Macungie Township, a lease that began in late October.
That leaves more than 582,000 square feet still available in the 1.1million-square-foot industrial building, owned by Liberty Property Trust.
It remains unclear what the news means for Westport's existing 516,800square-foot space within the 1-millionsquare-foot structure at 650 Boulder Drive in Upper Macungie Township, another Liberty Property Trust building that Westport has occupied since it arrived in the area in 2012.
While Westport's lease on Boulder Drive lasts for another two years, a statement from Liberty Property Trust indicates the space will be marketed before long.
“With nearly no current vacancy in our Lehigh portfolio, we expect to be talking to our tenants and other prospects in the market about the future availability of this space,” Liberty spokeswoman Jeanne Ackerly Leonard said in an email.
Westport Axle and its parent company, Universal Logistics Holdings Inc. of Warren, Mich., did not return several calls and emails over the past month.
Officials in Upper and Lower Macungie were not clear on Westport's exact plans. Maureen Lang, permits coordinator for Lower Macungie, said Westport Axle has its business use permit for the new space and is now working on a demising wall for its section of the building.
Westport opened its chassis assembly plant on Boulder Drive in June 2012 to serve Mack, which assembles its heavy-duty trucks at a 1-million-squarefoot plant that sits on nearly 150 acres in Lower Macungie. In August 2012, during a visit of Westport by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, Westport employed about 250 people, with plans to grow to 500 in the months afterward.
Workers at the plant turned down an effort to unionize in November 2014, when the United Auto Workers Union Local 677 was seeking to represent about 300 Westport employees.
Throughout its tenure in the Lehigh Valley, Westport's employment has fluctuated along with Mack.
For example, Mack in January 2016 laid off about 400 people at its Lower Macungie plant as it adjusted production to reflect a weaker truck market. At about the same time, Westport filed paperwork with the state showing it would lay off more than 50 assembly and warehouse employees in Upper Macungie.
But right now, the truck market is hot. Mack, while consistently hampered this year by supply chain issues, now employs about 2,400 across two shifts at its plant, which began building the company's new highway truck, Anthem, in early 2018.
“Fortunately, with the growth that Mack Trucks has launched into, Westport is growing as well,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. “They have, for some time, been looking for some better space to continue their growth.”
What also remains unclear is what exactly Westport will do in its new Lower Macungie location, about 3 miles away from Mack's plant. (Westport's Upper Macungie location is around 6 miles from Mack.)
Mack in April 2016 said the chassis preassembly work done by Westport Axle in Upper Macungie would move inside the Mack plant, which was part of the manufacturer's announcement that its aging assembly plant would receive an injection of $70 million in upgrades. Westport, Mack said at the time, would continue to provide other “critical support operations.”
Mack has insourced chassis preassembly work for one of its production lines and is working to complete the insourcing for the second line, Mack spokesman Christopher Heffner said Friday via email.
“We have a good business relationship with Westport, and they will continue to be an important partner for us even after the insourcing project is complete,” Heffner said. “It's always important to have our suppliers close to us in terms of reaction time and flexibility.”
As for Liberty Property Trust, which got the go-ahead from Lower Macungie on Thursday for two more industrial buildings in the Spring Creek Properties subdivision, Westport's lease helps fill a gap in its otherwise nearly fully leased Lehigh Valley portfolio.
The nearby 650,000-square-foot building at 8742 Congdon Hill Drive is leased to East Penn Manufacturing Co., while the 1.2-million-square-foot structure at 8620 Congdon Hill Drive is leased to Ryder Logistics.
If Westport Axle does vacate its space in 650 Boulder Drive, it's too early right now to know which company will take it over.
The other tenant in the building is Amazon, which has a 480,000-squarefoot fulfillment operation in the space that employs about 500 full-time employees.