While the recently announced $72 million expansion and 410 new jobs at Haier America in Camden is largely considered a big step forward in Kershaw County’s economic development, Kershaw County Council and staff continue to look for ways to attract new industries to the county.
Council discussed the matter during its last two meetings. Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter presented various scenarios to council during its latest meeting Tuesday, outlining what could be done at the county’s existing industrial parks to make them more appealing to companies and what the projected costs of the improvements would be. He said companies considering a new site generally want to see some development already underway.
“The parks we have in Kershaw County are sites that are not cleared. They’re sites that are not graded. They have, in most cases, no interior roads. They have no spec buildings available currently. They have inadequate entranceways and turn lanes are non-existent and no landscaping,” Carpenter said, also saying neighboring counties have industrial sites which are more complete and look better to industries. “Our competition in adjacent counties, these are existing industrial parks with spec buildings that are graded, that are cleared and are ready to go. They’ve been announcing for the last 18 months a number of significant expansions or new locations of industries.”
Carpenter referred to the county’s industrial sites as “product” and explained the need to have a complete product ready to sell.
“We’re currently not competitive with adjacent counties or similar counties in our region. Our existing parks lack some of the adequate basic attributes an industry look for. We have dirt roads and heavily wooded sites, rough terrain and no landscaping,” Carpenter said. “(An) industry, when it’s looking for sites, requires a ready-to-go site. They consider the candidates based on how available and ready they are to meet their needs. Failure to be ready in Kershaw County has resulted in us being eliminated before the first round. We never made it to the (site) visit because we didn’t have available product and other counties did.”
The infrastructure developments Carpenter presented could total $15 million if all were done, financed with general obligation bonds. Paying the bonds could result in incremental tax millage increases during a 30-year period, depending on if the plan to attract new business is successful.
“The bottom line is, the three industrial sites that Kershaw County owns or controls have serious needs … roadway improvements, landscaping and signage improvements, intersection improvements, clearing and grading and the design and construction of spec buildings,” Carpenter said. “The total for all three sites … would allow us to take the three existing industrial parks and bring them up to the standards that industry looks for and our adjacent and competing counties are already meeting and are providing.”
Councilman Jimmy Jones said the county has to invest in itself to be competitive with other counties in economic development, but all aspects should be carefully considered before action is taken and the developments could be done in steps.
“We need to certainly plan for the future … we talk about $15 million … but we could do part of it, a lower amount, this year and then in a couple of years watch what the economy is doing and do the same at that point in time,” Jones said. “We don’t have to eat the elephant all at one time. We can go one bite at a time, if we so choose to do that.”
Regarding spec buildings, Councilman C.R. Miles Jr., whose business is construction, said it’s nearly impossible to design and build a facility which exactly fits what a company looks for.
“My opinion on spec buildings is purely speculation. You can have something built close to what you want, but I don’t think you’re ever going to find anything that’s going to suit anybody perfectly. It’s like looking for house,” Miles said.
Carpenter countered by saying spec buildings are designed so they can be easily modified to fit a company’s needs, saving months of construction versus starting with a bare lot.
“They’re built to be as customizable as you can. There’s a dirt floor in them which allows the industry that selects it to determine the thickness of the floor it needs. The walls are designed so they can be opened up as they need access from the outside. The ceiling heights are the maximum heights and they can be lowered with drop ceilings if necessary, so these are shells. It moves them down the road a good six months to be up and running,” Carpenter said. “What we’re trying to do is get a head start on an industry, because nowadays they are so competitive in the market that one day for them lost in production sometimes is the difference. They’re looking to get in as fast as they can and have product coming out the door as fast as they can get it out the door.”
Councilman Tom Gardner said the county is growing and the need for more industries and the jobs they create should grow, as well.
“We’re going to continue to grow. We’ve got 2,000 home sites already planned for the next 10 years. We’re going to continue to grow, if we don’t make this investment. We’re going to have more people in Kershaw County, which requires more services,” Gardner said. “County government is about services and about what we pay for. So, we’re going to have the need for more law enforcement, fire, recreation, public works and so on as the county grows. Government is going to grow, whether our workforce grows or not. This is an opportunity for us to invest with an opportunity to grown our own jobs.”
Councilman Dennis Arledge said county residents asked about job growth more than anything else as he campaigned for election in 2014.
“I would like to have the opportunity in the future for my children, and your children and grandchildren to remain in Kershaw County for employment. They cannot do that today. We have got to make some kind of investment in ourselves. I don’t want to pay any more taxes, but I don’t know where I can move to another county or state that has the quality of life that we have but has less tax base,” Arledge said. “We can either meet this head-on, or another council, four years or eight years from now is going to have to make the same decisions. Making the decision to go forward and grow the economy is what we’re responsible to do.”
Council agreed to study Carpenter’s report and continue discussing the matter during future meetings.
In other business, council received an update on the status of the county’s relationship with Palmetto Utilities, a wastewater treatment company with a facility adjacent to Spears Creek in southwest Kershaw County. Palmetto Utilities treats wastewater primarily from customers in nearby Richland County. Kershaw County has alleged the utility’s water runoff damaged Crab Apple Lane near its plant and committed other violations.
The company has submitted an application to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to be allowed to increase their daily discharge of treated wastewater from 6 million gallons per day (mgd) to 18 mgd into Spears Creek and from 12 mgd to 18 mgd into the Wateree River. Currently the company does not discharge into either body of water, instead pooling the treated wastewater into sand pits, called “rapid infiltration basins,” where it seeps into the ground and eventually becomes part of the local ground water.
In March, Palmetto Utilities was sold to Pacolet-Milliken, a privately-owned investment company in Spartanburg which owns multiple utilities and retail outlets. Jones reported Pacolet-Milliken has spent more than $100,000 repairing Crab Apple Lane. Carpenter said the road has not been certified for public use and therefore is not officially considered open, although some traffic may be using it.
Daniel Rickman of Pacolet-Millikin said since the company acquired Palmetto Utilities, it has worked to improve its relationship with the county.
“We want to have a relationship and I think we’ve been very open. Everything that’s been asked by the county for us to deliver to them, we’ve done,” Rickman said.
He also said his company considers Crab Apple Lane to be private property and not a county road. The company’s wish was to keep the road closed, but he was told it needs to be open for school buses to pass through. He said Pacolet-Millikin was unaware of some of the tension between Kershaw County and Palmetto Utilities before the purchase.
“There was a lot of history, a lot of bad blood. I can’t fix what happened over the last 10 years, but what I can do is be here today … to help move things forward,” he said. “We want to look to the future. We can’t live in the future yet, because we’re not there. We’ve had some good, ongoing discussions with the county. Are we done yet? No. Do we want to have a solution that’s agreeable? Yes.”
Council also passed a resolution honoring Harvest Hope Food Bank for bringing awareness to the issue of hunger in South Carolina and to recognize Hunger Awareness and Action Month. Mary Louise Reich accepted a framed copy of the resolution from Chairman Julian Burns on behalf of Harvest Hope.
Brian Mayes, director of the Kershaw County Boys & Girls Clubs’ Jackson Teen Center gave a brief presentation on progress at the center, an after-school program providing a safe environment and structured activities for youth. Mayes said the efforts are paying off in measureable ways. The center celebrated its first anniversary in June.
“This past school year, 100 percent of our seniors have gone off to college, with the last one who left this morning choosing to go to the United States Army first, and he will be attending Blackburn College in January For most of last year, except for one quarter, our teens maintained an A/B honor roll, which is great,” Mayes said. “We also want to thank the partner agencies like The ALPHA Center, who has been a tremendous partner for us.”
Mayes said Job Readiness for Teens has partnered with the center to provide teens on-the-job training. The United Way of Kershaw County and Second Look Charities have also been involved, Mayes said. He said the Diamonds step dance team will host a competition in November which will bring dance teams from as far away as Virginia.
“If you ever want your spirits rejuvenated, recharged, please come by the center,” Mayes concluded. “They’re a great group of kids, they love this county, we love this county.”