Earlier this month, eyeglass lens producer Zeiss Vision Care cut the ribbon for the company’s new U.S. headquarters in Hebron, KY. The grand opening capped off a multi-year, $20 million construction project at Zeiss’ existing Boone County facility, which will create about 75 full-time jobs.
“As Kentucky’s economy surges ahead, I’m thrilled to congratulate Zeiss on its strong growth in the commonwealth and the opening of its new U.S. headquarters in Boone County,” said Governor Andy Beshear. “The company’s emphasis on innovation and its commitment to creating quality opportunities for Kentuckians make it an excellent corporate partner, and we in turn remain committed to helping Zeiss continue thriving in our state. I thank Zeiss leaders for choosing Kentucky as the company’s new U.S. headquarters.”
The $20 million expansion primarily involved updates to the company’s state-of-the-art optical laboratory, which uses automation, robotics and big-data machine learning to produce lenses as quickly and with as little manual intervention as possible. The upgrades also allowed the lab to become completely paperless, making the company’s production processes more sustainable.
The company began upgrading its Kentucky optical lab in 2016. In addition to its advanced manufacturing component, the facility also houses the company’s national customer service team and continues serving as Zeiss’ North American distribution center, benefiting from Kentucky’s ideal geographic location within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population.
“Innovation has been Zeiss’ guiding principle since we were founded 175 years ago, and our newly completed facility in Hebron uses the latest technology that will power the next generation in vision care,” said Zeiss Vision Care President Jens Boy. “We’re thrilled to officially relocate our U.S. headquarters to Kentucky, and are thankful for the warm welcome from Gov. Beshear.”
Moving Zeiss Vision Care headquarters from San Diego, CA to Hebron centralizes the company’s operations with its main U.S. optical laboratory. The additional 75 jobs will expand Zeiss’ existing workforce of nearly 400 employees and include positions such as lab technicians, customer service agents and warehouse clerks.
Zeiss’ Hebron, KY facility opened in 2001 and has experienced significant growth in recent years. During the past five years, the company more than tripled its employment at the facility.
Additionally, company leaders recently unveiled a new, 2,500-square-foot showroom and optical store concept at its Hebron location. The showroom, open to eye care professionals, will serve as a replica of a Zeiss Vision Center, including the company’s diagnostic equipment and consumer optical products. The 200-plus Zeiss Vision Center stores worldwide – each owned and operated by independent practitioners – offer eye exams, lens consultation and frame selection for patients.
Zeiss Vision Care is a division of Germany-based Zeiss Group, a technology company that produces and distributes optical products such as semiconductor manufacturing technology, medical technology, microscopy devices and camera lenses, in addition to its vision care segment. Zeiss adds to Kentucky’s existing presence of nearly 80 German-owned operations, which combine to employ about 14,000 people statewide.
The operation in Hebron is one of roughly 4,500 manufacturing-related facilities in Kentucky, which combine to employ about 260,000 Kentuckians. About 13% of Kentucky’s workforce holds a job in the manufacturing sector, compared to the U.S. average of 8.5%.
The company is also part of Kentucky’s thriving distribution and logistics sector, which includes more than 580 facilities employing nearly 78,000 residents statewide. In 2020, distribution and logistics companies announced 33 new location and expansion projects in Kentucky, expected to create more than 1,600 full-time jobs with over $313 million in announced investments.
Zeiss Vision Care is part of a strong network of North American headquarters and manufacturing operations in the region, according to Lee Crume, president and CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.
“Northern Kentucky is an ideal location for combined headquarters and manufacturing operations – we offer excellent talent and transportation infrastructure,” said Crume. “Having an innovative eye care manufacturer with an extensive showroom for customers is an important asset for the Cincinnati region, which has a strong medical and health care industry.”
To encourage Zeiss’ construction of its lab and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) in 2018 granted final approval of a 10-year incentive agreement with the company under the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based agreement can provide up to $2 million in tax incentives based on the company’s eligible investment of $10 million and targets of:
- Creation and maintenance of 190 Kentucky-resident, full-time jobs; and
- Paying an average hourly wage of $19.77 including benefits across those jobs.
By meeting its annual targets over the agreement term, the company can be eligible to keep a portion of the new tax revenue it generates. The company may claim eligible incentives against its income tax liability and/or wage assessments.
Additionally, in 2016, KEDFA approved Zeiss for up to $100,000 in tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act (KEIA). KEIA allows approved companies to recoup Kentucky sales and use tax on construction costs, building fixtures, equipment used in research and development and electronic processing.
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