Hollywood power couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard arrive in Waco with homegrown diaper brand

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard celebrated their new business Tuesday minutes away from Beverly Hills.

No, not that Beverly Hills. The one outside Waco.

The Hollywood power couple drew a small crowd to the southern end of Waco as they opened the first production facility for their Hello Bello baby diaper brand.

Families streamed through giant double doors to tour the bright purple, blue and yellow-painted building, an anomaly among Waco’s other industrial facilities. Locals were served sweet tea and Vitek’s BBQ from food trucks while kids ran through a row of bounce castles and took turns on a mechanical bull. Multiple bands performed throughout the afternoon, one of which introduced a cover of Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile” as “Sara Marshall Smile” — a reference to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the 2008 romantic comedy that Bell starred in.

“For a couple of liberal commies, y’all have really opened your arms to us, and we thank you for that,” Shepard joked before cutting a giant ribbon made of interconnected diapers to commemorate the opening of the 312,000-square-foot facility.

The plant makes Hello Bello the only traditional diaper brand manufacturing its own diapers, according to the founders. The company will receive $2.5 million in tax incentives from the the city of Waco and McLennan County that are tied to job creation and maintaining a $15-an-hour minimum wage, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

The incentives require Hello Bello to create at least 110 jobs, but co-founder Sean Kane said he expects the site may eventually employ twice as many people.

Bell and Shepard founded the company in 2019 with co-CEOs Kane and Jay McGraw, son of TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw, as well as chief operating officer Jennifer Pullen. Kane is known for founding The Honest Co. with actress Jessica Alba. Both he and McGraw are also Texas natives.

“I grew up in Texas my whole life ... and it’s amazing to see how the city has exploded,” McGraw said of Waco during the event.

The Hello Bello plant in Waco is expected to be fully operational over the next few weeks.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

The plant opening is the latest in a string of investments in the Waco area over the past several years. Long known as a college town situated equidistant from Dallas and Austin, the region has attracted investments from Dallas-based Topgolf Entertainment, additional investment to expand a nearby SpaceX facility as well as a new Amazon fulfillment center, not to mention the continued impact of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ business operations.

“I think the world is watching Waco right now,” Waco Mayor Dillon Meek told employees, business partners and the community gathered at the Hello Bello opening event.

“Between 2020 and 2021, we’ve announced over 4 million square feet of new construction in McLennan County — an all-time high for our region,” Meek said.

Hello Bello cited Waco’s proximity to raw materials and its centrally located shipping hubs in the area as reasons it chose the city for its plant. It has invested around $31 million in the space, renovating an old Domtar Personal Care site.

The plant has completed construction of one of its three production lines already and expects to have the whole plant operating in the next “several weeks,” said Rusty Able, director of Hello Bello’s baby diaper program. Each of the three production lines is capable of fixing together lining, wings and fastening strips to make 800 diapers every minute.

Hello Bello has more than 160 employees overall, and some employees are moving from its home base in Los Angeles to the Waco facility, which includes offices, Kane said.

Jeff Sutton, 39, and his family are some of those transplants. Sutton, who works in distribution for Hello Bello, said that he never saw himself living in Texas but that the opportunity to be a part of building a new company from the ground up was enticing.

Like Kane’s other venture, the independent diaper manufacturer takes a health- and environmentally-conscious approach to its branding and business operations. Hello Bello’s product line also includes wipes, toiletries, cleaning supplies and seasonal goods.

Texas economist Ray Perryman said several factors are contributing to Waco’s growth prospects, with the first and most obvious being the Magnolia businesses created by the Gaineses of HGTV’s Fixer Upper fame.

Magnolia at the Silos has become “a phenomenon and really transformed Waco into a tourism destination,” he said.

A pre-pandemic study found that Magnolia has been a catalyst for a 44.3% increase in the relative importance of tourism in the area. More than two-thirds of the direct spending occurs at venues other than Magnolia, such as hotels and restaurants, Perryman said.

And there are significant new real estate developments under way in the Baylor-Downtown-Brazos River area of town, including housing, retail, restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions.

Waco has always had a manufacturing base, including one of the largest Mars candy factories in the U.S., and Baylor University’s student body has grown significantly in recent years to more than 20,000 students, Perryman said.

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