About six years ago, Nature’s Bounty, the vitamin and food-supplement maker that employs over 2,000 in the Town of Islip, announced plans to open a $32 million, 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Amityville’s New Horizons Industrial Park, located in the Town of Babylon.
To run it, Nature’s Bounty would soon hire more than 200 local workers to manufacture energy bars for global sales. A vitamin and food-supplement manufacturer with manufacturing operations in California, China and elsewhere, Nature’s Bounty was, and is, Islip’s largest employer that is not a hospital. It is also one of the largest private employers in Suffolk County.
To sweeten the pot for company officials, the Babylon Industrial Development Agency slashed the company’s Amityville tax bill by 60 percent for 15 years. In 2013, when the facility opened, Empire State Development, New York State’s economic-development arm, offered a $750,000 grant of its own.
Within just two years, the good vibes soured. In March 2015, Nature’s Bounty closed the plant, axing more than 200 jobs. The plant’s work was outsourced to Nellson Nutraceutical, a California company whose “very special manufacturing capabilities” could “produce more bars and faster,” according to a spokeswoman.
Matthew McDonough, Babylon IDA’s chief executive, tried to talk the company into staying. No dice.
“California,” he says, “was a done deal.”
The state withheld grant payment while McDonough clawed back nearly $294,000 in owed abatements.
“Ironically, we ended up leasing one of the buildings to Bloomfield Bakers, from California,” he tells me.
By the following year, the company was considering its options. In Fall 2016, Nature’s Bounty told Empire State Development that its 11 Long Island manufacturing facilities required extensive upgrades to keep the company from relocating. Howard Zemsky, Empire State Development’s chief, “assessed the threat of moving the company’s manufacturing and distribution out of state to be real,” according to William Mannix, executive director of Islip’s Industrial Development Agency. Albany then offered a grant of up to $25 million and $10 million in job training and other workforce development programs.
In return, the company committed to creating 157 new jobs, retaining 2,042 existing jobs while investing over $142 million on upgrading its Long Island plants.
Locally, Islip’s IDA board offered $8.4 million worth of tax abatements to the company over the next decade. The agency also expects to extend an undetermined amount of sales tax benefits as well, based on final capital cost reporting. The retention deal is expected to close within several weeks.
Job creation is a key component of any government retention strategy. According to a report in Newsday at the time, Nature’s Bounty’s CEO “pledged” to add the jobs within a year’s time. A spokeswoman says that the equipment needed to run the facilities would be transferred within three months’ time.
Since then, the company’s executive suite has had a shakeup. Last July, Nature’s Bounty’s long-time private equity owner, the Carlyle Group, sold a majority-stake sale of the company to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for a reported $3 billion. After the deal the new owners divested most of the company’s European operations, slimming its global work force by about 75 percent.
CEO Steve left Ronkonkoma and moved into the corner office of the Kellogg Company, the global cereal maker. Replacing him was Paul Sturman, former worldwide head of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. The company’s best-known brands remain, including the flagship Nature’s Bounty, plus Sundown Naturals, Osteo Bi-Flex, Solgar, Balance Bar and Puritan’s Pride.
Despite the upheaval, apparently neither state nor local IDA officials have opened conversations with Sturman to gauge the new CEO’s level of commitment to his predecessor’s pledge. Messages asking about job creation left with Sturman were not returned. Jodi Katz, a spokeswoman, says hiring information “would be made available at such time as we submit a filing” with Empire State Development. That won’t be before the end of the year, at the earliest – a long time for people waiting on jobs.
John Lombardo, who runs Suffolk County Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing program, tells me: “I know firsthand they are actively participating in every job fair at Stony Brook, Suffolk Community College and the regional labor departments. I’ve every reason to believe they’ve probably already exceeded their original hiring goals.”
Hopefully this time the new hires will be permanent.
Warren Strugatch is a partner with Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Contact him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com