Dell Computers Plans 500,000-s.f. Plant in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Winston-Salem is close to completing plans for the first phase of work on Dell Inc.'s 500,000-square-foot plant in southeast Forsyth County.

Bob Leak, the president of Winston-Salem Business Inc., said yesterday that the economic-development group expects to select a grading contractor today. Site preparation is the only portion of the construction that the local group is handling for Dell, he said.

"We anticipate that the contractor will be in full gear moving dirt by the end of this week," Leak said.

Dell selected Alliance Science and Technology Park as the site for its new computer-assembly plant on Dec. 22. The park is between Interstate 40 and U.S. 311 near Union Cross Road. The company expects to hire 700 employees in the first year of operations and 1,500 within five years.

Dell plans to begin building construction by early February and start assembling desktop computers in the fall.

"Our goal is to get the pad ready within a month and get out of Dell's way so it can begin construction," Leak said.

Dell is keeping quiet about its plans for selecting a general contractor. According to local and state general contractors, Dell told Triad economic-development officials that it didn't want specific information from any interested companies until it had chosen the plant site.

"We're still doing due diligence about choosing a general contractor," said Michele Blood, a spokeswoman for Dell.

Dick Hunter, a vice president of the Dell Americas operation, said that the company doesn't plan to rush construction of the Forsyth plant as it did its computer-assembly plant in Lebanon, Tenn. The Lebanon plant became operational in 110 days to ease a production squeeze at Dell's plants in Texas.

"We haven't been told by Dell who is going to be the team leader for the facility construction, but I expect to learn something about it this week," Leak said. He said he is referring local contractors to the architect firm of Susman, Tisdale and Gayle in Nashville, Tenn., for more information.

The general contractor would be in charge of building what Dell is billing as a world-class manufacturing plant in terms of production capacity and technology.

The general contractor faces the challenge of not only meeting a tight schedule, but also Dell's reputation for reducing costs wherever possible. Local contractors estimate that the cost of building the plant could reach $35 million, and that as many as 400 construction workers could be required.

"Dell will look for the best value it can get for the product it needs constructed," Leak said.

Jim Walker, the president of John S. Clark Co. Inc. in Mount Airy, said that most construction workers would be hired within the region no matter who is selected as the general contractor.

"We're making inroads in expressing our interest in being the general contractor for the plant to Dell and local economic-development officials, but we haven't had any significant feedback yet," Walker said.

"The size of the project, as we understand it, is certainly within our realm of handling."

Given that Dell will receive about $280 million in local and state incentives over 20 years, some economic officials and politicians said they want the company to use as many local companies as feasible to provide another direct economic impact to the Triad.

"We have talked about figuring out a way to work with the folks in the Triad on the plant," Blood said.

Leak said that Winston-Salem Business has asked Dell to use local contractors "to the extent that they can."

"But there is no indication that they will do that vs. using someone it has used before," Leak said.

Shelco Inc., a general contractor based in Charlotte, is considering whether to pursue the Dell plant project from a cost-benefit perspective, said Charles "Bud" Palmer III, the vice president of marketing and business development.

"We're waiting for more information from Dell as to what the requirement of its processes will be," Palmer said. "We feel confident that we can handle the project.

"If Dell wanted it built in the same time frame as the Tennessee plant, it would require running 24-7 shifts. If it's more like six months, we would run two shifts six days a week."