Stephen L. Christian: Martinsburg's Macy's project gives us hope


This week, we celebrated a real achievement for our county: the grand opening of the new Macy’s facility in Martinsburg, W.Va. The 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center for Macy’s and its sister retailer Bloomingdale’s is massive — if you haven’t taken a look at it, please do when you are in the vicinity of the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park on Caperton Boulevard.

The Macy’s center will be responsible for fulfilling customer orders for their rapidly growing Internet sales.

The building has been complete for several months now, and Macy’s has been busy hiring hundreds of new employees to staff and begin operating the complex.

During the event, many of our elected officials and Macy’s corporate leaders were on hand to formally christen the new facility and to thank everyone involved in bringing it to fruition.

Many news stories about the Macy’s project have been in the press over the last two years for obvious reasons. This project will have a profound and lasting impact on our economy, not to mention the lives of thousands of people in the region. The company estimates an annual payroll of $30 million and more than 2,000 employees during peak holiday seasons. That’s newsworthy — and certainly cause for celebration.


Prior to the Macy’s announcement, we had some very different kinds of news stories in the press. Soon after starting my work for the Berkeley County EDA in January 2008, I witnessed some heartbreaking incidents resulting from the recession. For example, just three months into my work, we were hit with the news that the catalogue fulfillment company AB&C Inc. had abruptly closed its doors in an ugly bankruptcy where more than 300 employees were left suddenly with no paychecks.

I was there in the warehouse just after it happened and saw the faces of many who were wondering how they would pay rent or buy groceries for their families. In the ensuing months, I worked hard to find a company that could take over the abandoned facility and bring jobs back to the abandoned employees. We had some suitors — but no takers. In the end, the equipment and all the inventory was sold at auction.

Less than a year later, Ralph Lauren announced it would be consolidating its children’s wear division from Berkeley County to North Carolina. While this was a more traditional and orderly transition for those 150 employees than the implosion of AB&C, it was no less disheartening to see the jobs leave.

Certainly, our corner of the world has not been immune to the ravages of the recession. That makes this week’s event, dedicating Macy’s new facility, all the more reason for celebration. Hopefully, many of those workers displaced at AB&C and Ralph Lauren will obtain jobs at Macy’s. This week, when speeches were being made, and ribbons were being cut, I was thinking of all those people and their families.

This one’s for you.

Stephen L. Christian is executive director of the Berkeley County Economic Development Authority.

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