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It’s official: Ulta bringing part of its billion-dollar business to Fresno

Architectural renderings of an Ulta Beauty distribution center in Fresno. The company and city announced Friday, March 10, 2017, that Fresno was chosen for the center.
Architectural renderings of an Ulta Beauty distribution center in Fresno. The company and city announced Friday, March 10, 2017, that Fresno was chosen for the center. Ulta

Ulta Beauty and the city of Fresno officially announced Friday that the cosmetics company has chosen Fresno as the site of a large distribution center that will initially employ more than 500 workers and could swell to more than 1,000 employees with seasonal hires during busy periods.

The joint statement issued by the company and the city confirmed what The Bee reported Tuesday about Ulta’s selection of Fresno for a 670,500-square-foot warehouse to be built in south Fresno. Carolyn Sutphen, a spokeswoman for Ulta, said the distribution center is expected to hire an initial workforce of 542 when it opens in the summer of 2018. It will be built at the northwest corner of East and Central avenues.

Ulta is a growing business that last year reported net sales of $4.8 billion.

The company had identified Fresno last fall as its preferred site, but Ulta representatives told the state in November that the firm was also considering sites in Visalia, Bakersfield, Nevada and Utah. The $110 million distribution center will serve 400 stores and handle fulfillment of online orders from throughout the western United States. Ulta has five other distribution centers in Illinois, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas. The Fresno center will be Ulta’s first and only one in California.

“This is exactly the shot in the arm that Fresno needs to energize our economy and keep our momentum headed in a positive direction,” Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said in the joint statement. “We’re pleased that Ulta Beauty recognizes the value of our location. …”

This is exactly the shot in the arm that Fresno needs to energize our economy and keep our momentum headed in a positive direction.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand

As a city councilman last year, Brand was the author of the city’s Economic Expansion Act, which provides for rebates of sales and property taxes, along with other incentives, for companies that relocate to or expand in the city to create new jobs for local residents. In November, working under Brand’s act, the Fresno City Council approved a 30-year package of incentives – chiefly a partial rebate of sales taxes – worth up to $18 million to attract Ulta. To qualify for the city’s incentives, Ulta must create the equivalent of at least 500 full-time jobs at the Fresno center within five years. If the company fails to achieve that by the end of 2022, it would have to repay whatever rebates it had received to that point.

Also in November, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development agreed to provide $8 million in California Competes tax credits to Ulta if it chose a site in California, conditioned on the net creation of 542 full-time jobs in the state.

An economic analysis of the Ulta project that was commissioned by the city last year estimated that Fresno stands to realize about $42 million in additional sales and property tax revenue, even after the incentives.

Ulta, based in Illinois, has almost 980 stores in 48 states; in the Valley, the company has two stores in Fresno and one each in Clovis, Visalia, Hanford and Porterville.

“We are pleased to be expanding in Fresno with a new distribution center that supports our company’s growth strategy and brings additional jobs to the community,” Ulta CEO Mary Dillon said in the joint statement. “This will allow us to continue to grow our stores and e-commerce business. …”

Sutphen, the Ulta spokeswoman, said the company will begin posting job openings on its website closer to the completion and opening date.

Ulta Beauty, based in Illinois, has almost 980 stores in 48 states; in the Valley, the cosmetics company has two stores in Fresno and one each in Clovis, Visalia, Hanford and Porterville. It operates distribution centers in Illinois, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas.

Company growing

In its financial results released Thursday for the fourth quarter of 2016, Ulta announced that its sales – both in-store and online – have been growing at a significant clip. The company reported more than $1.58 billion in net sales during the quarter, up almost 25 percent compared with the fourth quarter of 2015. Its e-commerce sales grew even faster, up more than 63 percent compared with a year earlier and amounting to $154.9 million for the quarter. For the entire year, online orders represented $345.3 million in sales for Ulta.

While the city and Ulta waited until Friday to make the formal announcement, the company’s choice wasn’t exactly top secret. Clayco, the Chicago-based contractor that will build the distribution center, already has a construction office on the site, and renderings on the company’s website identified Ulta as the tenant for the building. Clayco’s website indicates that construction is expected to be done by the end of 2017.

Additionally, the careers page of Ulta’s website included a job opening for a human resources director for the Fresno distribution center.

Ulta isn’t the only potential big fish for which the city has baited its economic hook. In December, a month after approving the enticements for Ulta, the Fresno City Council approved a similar Economic Expansion Act package of incentives for Golden State FC LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of online retail giant Amazon.com. That package of incentives, including rebates of sales and property taxes, has a cap of $30 million over 30 years.

Larry Westerlund, the city’s economic development director, said Amazon deemed Fresno its preferred site for a $200 million, 855,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfillment center that would employ at least 750 workers and potentially hire up to 1,750 employees. There is, however, no word on when Amazon may make a decision on the location.

Brand traveled to Seattle late last week to meet with Amazon officials to pitch the Fresno site. The would-be location for that facility is less than a half mile from the Ulta site, in the North Pointe Business Park near Central and Orange avenues, and was formerly under consideration last year by clothing retailer Nordstrom for a distribution center. Nordstrom has put on hold any decision on a center in the Valley.

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