West­port Axle signs lease for new plant

Mack Trucks sup­plier will move into 517,500 square feet in Lower Ma­cungie.

The Morning Call - - STATE/REGION - By Jon Har­ris

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.

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