Access to transportation networks and a qualified work force were two of the top reasons Dell chose the Piedmont Triad for its next manufacturing plant.

Local community colleges and universities and easy access to the entire East Coast - home to 70 percent of the company's customers - also made it an ideal spot, Dell executives said Tuesday.As three Piedmont Triad counties compete for the plant's location, Dell invited members of the area news media to visit three facilities in Tennessee. The plant in Lebanon is similar to the one planned for the Piedmont Triad.

Economic development groups in Guilford, Forsyth and Davidson counties are planning incentives to win the plant. Winston-Salem and Forsyth propose to offer more than double Greensboro and Guilford's joint $12.4 million bid.

Dell won $242 million in tax breaks, cash and worker-training funds from the state to open a desktop computer manufacturing plant in the Piedmont Triad, which has lost more than 26,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001.

Incentives were just one factor in the company's decision to pick the area, said Dick Hunter, the vice president of Dell operations in the Americas.

"I wish we could locate right in the middle of the Triad so we could have access to the most people possible," said Pat Lochrie, the director of human resources for Dell's operations in the Americas.

The company likely will make a decision next week on where to locate the 500,000-square-foot plant, Hunter said. To open the factory on schedule next fall, Dell must start building next month, he said.

The company looked at other states, including South Carolina and Virginia, but the highway system pushed this area ahead of competitors, Hunter said.

Ready access to trucking companies also helped the company to make its decision, he said.

Working for Dell does not require manufacturing experience, said executives and employees in Tennessee. It does require a high school diploma.

And a willingness to be evaluated constantly.

Teams meet every morning to talk about their productivity from the day before and goals for the day ahead. Employees also meet with their manager once a month to talk about their performance.

One employee said that type of scrutiny is what makes the company succeed - and individual careers prosper.

"Accountability is one of the reasons we excel," said Greg Kelly, the director of fulfillment for Dell's operations in the Americas.

Instead of instilling fear, it motivates people, he said. And as long as everyone in the company is meeting customer expectations, "job security takes care of itself," he said.

Accountability can also pay well.

The average bonus for each Dell employee is about one month's pay, said Steve Cook, the director of the Lebanon plant. Employees who exceed expectations can get a bonus of 11/2-2 months wages, he said.

Salaries in the Piedmont Triad will average about $28,000 annually, according to the company.

The Piedmont Triad plant will be part of a worldwide expansion.

Dell opened call centers in Oklahoma City, Okla.; Edmonton and Alberta, Canada; and El Salvador and India this past summer and fall. It also opened a fulfillment center near Cincinnati, Ohio, and announced the Piedmont Triad manufacturing plant.

The company plans to open a plant in eastern Europe in the next couple of years, Hunter said. However, Dell is one company where people should not fear their jobs will be moved overseas, he said.

"As long as we are winning the race on cost, we will be in the United States," Hunter said. "We expect to be in the United States for a very long time."

\ Contact Marta Hummel at 373-7070 or mhummel@news-record.com

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