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Sealed Air breaks ground Thursday; firm already has 180 local hires

From left, Jerome Peribere President and CEO Sealed Air,Governor Pat McCrory at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Sealed Air global corporate headquarters, June 25,2015.
From left, Jerome Peribere President and CEO Sealed Air,Governor Pat McCrory at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Sealed Air global corporate headquarters, June 25,2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Sealed Air Corp., the Fortune 500 company best known for Bubble Wrap, formally started construction of its Charlotte headquarters Thursday, saying it has hired about 180 people locally so far.

Gov. Pat McCrory, Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, Sealed Air CEO Jerome Peribere and about 200 executives attended the ceremony.

“(We feel) very welcomed by the community, very welcomed by the governor who helped us move here and establish the company (headquarters),” Peribere told the Observer, adding that he already has picked a new home in Uptown.

By the time the company finishes moving into its new headquarters at LakePointe Corporate Center in early 2017, it expects to have a workforce of 1,262, with local hires comprising about half, said Norm Finch, a vice president whose responsibilities include human resources.

Those jobs are in various fields, from higher paying sectors like science, financial and legal, to entry-level work in supply chain and customer service, Finch said.

Average salary of all jobs at the new headquarters will be about $120,000, the Charlotte Chamber said when Sealed Air announced its relocation in July. The company was lured in part by $36 million in state incentives and a $2.5 million grant contingent on a local match, on top of $4.4 million worth of city and county incentives.

For Chief Financial Officer Carol Lowe, the move is a homecoming. The Union County native had been working away from the Charlotte area for about seven years, she told the Observer, and it feels good to relocate from New Jersey with the company. In Charlotte, she said, “you can belong to a small community within a larger city.”

Jobs in Charlotte

In January, Sealed Air established a local recruiting team led by John Tuomala, who has worked in local talent acquisition for almost 20 years.

Most of the new hires in Charlotte so far have been in finance, accounting and IT, Tuomala said. Hiring continues, especially in customer service.

The amount of applications per job is “significant” in Charlotte, Finch said. “There are some roles where we will have more than 1,000 applicants.”

Half of the 1,262 jobs are expected to be filled locally, but that also depends on how many current employees will move to Charlotte, Finch said.

Some corporate workers in New Jersey, Connecticut, Wisconsin and South Carolina’s Upstate will move to Charlotte. Employees were notified in July to prepare for a move of location or employer. The firm will continue sending individual notifications, Spokesperson Ken Aurichio said.

Three buildings will be on Sealed Air’s campus, including a customer learning center and the company’s biggest research and development center, Lowe said in the first quarter earnings call.

Varied business lines

Bubble Wrap, the packing material the company invented more than 50 years ago, might be its best known product, but today it makes up just 2 percent of the international company's total revenue, Peribere said.

Sealed Air earned $258 million in profits from a $7.8 billion revenue in 2014. More than 60 percent of its revenue is generated overseas. Its 25,000 employees serve customers in 175 countries.

Its business now includes: food and beverage packaging with focuses on hygiene and extending shelf life; protective product packaging which includes Bubble Wrap; and its Diversey care unit focusing on health care, hygiene, infection control and facility management.

“Any company which has hygiene needs – call it restaurants, call it a hotel ... call it an airport, call it schools, call it municipalities ... most companies can be potential customers of ours,” Peribere told the Observer.

Last week, the NYSE-listed company announced a shift in strategy from “Get Fit” to “Change the Game” at its investor day. Since 2012, “Get Fit” has meant cost reduction through restructuring programs, improvements in supply chain efficiency and a focus on pricing when it comes to increasing profit margin and revenues.

In its “Change the Game” initiative, Sealed Air now aims to expand sales from volume by developing new products and tapping into new markets. The company set its 2018 sales goal at about $8 billion and core profit margin at 18 percent.

Analysts say “Get Fit” has been a success by and large but have sounded cautionary notes on the 2018 goals.

“While the company’s 2018 sales growth targets are likely ambitious, we believe management has earned a significant amount of credibility over the past few years, and it could be unwise to underestimate them again,” Wells Fargo senior analyst Chris Manuel wrote in his equity research on Sealed Air.

The earlier strategy was “relatively straightforward involving successful execution of ‘low-hanging fruit,’ while the latter in our view, could present more complex operational challenges,” Barclays analyst Scott Gaffner wrote in an equity report.

Yet Peribere said the company is “lucky” that demand for its products is consistent with a number of global trends. For instance, time-starved consumers demand food items with longer shelf life – which fits with Sealed Air’s food packaging innovations, he said.

And the rise of e-commerce? That means more shipping – which means more Bubble Wrap.

With a focus on innovation, Sealed Air acquired Intellibot Robotics LLC, a developer of robotic commercial floor cleaning machines in April.

The company plans to set aside $400 million in the next three years for mergers and acquisitions, documents show. Peribere hinted that money might be in use soon.

“We are going to announce another small one for another division, which is another technology-based company, it’s going to be very valuable,” Peribere said. “Stay tuned.”

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