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Ceremony marks grand opening of Japanese candy factory in Mebane

Business leaders and local officials cut a ribbon and took hammers to a barrel of sake to mark the grand opening of the Morinaga America, Inc., production facility in Mebane on Thursday.

About a year has passed since builders broke ground on the facility, which spans 120,000 square feet and employed 87 people as of May 15. The building is the company’s first American-based manufacturing facility.

Morinaga America produces Hi-Chew, a Japanese candy similar to Starburst that comes in mango, green apple, grape, cherry and strawberry flavors. The brand has been sold in Japan for 40 years under parent company Morinaga & Co., Ltd., but has now spread to American retailers such as Walmart, Walgreens, Costco and Target.

“When I began working here, I expected that North Carolina, Orange County and the city of Mebane would be a wonderful environment with easy access and an excellent workforce,” said Toshiaki Fukunaga, president and CEO of Morinaga America.

“After working here for two years, my expectation was surpassed.”

Local officials who spoke at the grand opening ceremony included Governor Pat McCrory; Earl McKee, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners; and Glendel Stephenson, mayor of Mebane.

“For those of you who have tried to eat one piece of Hi-Chew and ended up eating the whole bag, I can sympathize,” McKee said.

He stressed the impact the Morinaga facility will have on Orange County’s economy.

“This is a day we have patiently anticipated,” he said.

“Several years ago, the board of commissioners sought to diversify the local economy and bring in new businesses and jobs. For a world-class firm with a highly-regarded reputation to make the choice to locate their first facility here — it’s a great honor.”

Mayor Stephenson said his hopes are high that the opening of the Morinaga facility will be the beginning of Mebane’s becoming known as Orange County’s industrial park.

“With eight lanes of interstates, with eight institutions of higher learning within an hour’s drive, being midway between two international airports and within three hours drive to the mountains or the coast, I don’t know how a company could find a better location for its business operations than right here in Mebane in Orange County,” he said.

“We’re anxious to work with (Morinaga America) in any manner you might need us to ensure your success in this plan. It’s a good day for all of us.”

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