Davenport: Fairfield County short on inventory

RIDGEWAY – The County’s Director of Economic Development, Ty Davenport, is tickled pink that the county has a potentially interested buyer for its only spec building, a 75,000 square foot big box in the Walter Brown Industrial Park off Cook Road, but his elation is exceeded by his worry that the County doesn’t have the marketable industrial properties that it needs to stay up with its competition.

Some Fairfield County residents, however, have voiced objection when the County considers purchasing more land for economic development.

Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor, left, and the County’s Director of Economic Development Ty Davenport, survey infrastructure construction in the Fairfield Commerce Center off Peach Road that is scheduled to be finished in the spring. | Barbara Ball

“When it comes up that the County is looking to buy several hundred acres of property for economic development, the perception is that the County owns all this property and has a tremendous amount of inventory,” Davenport told The Voice last week during a tour of the County’s 600-acre Fairfield Commerce Center off Peach Road, the second of its two industrial parks.

“But we don’t,” he said. “Our marketable territory is pretty slim today compared to the main counties we compete with. We have a total of about 600 buildable acres. Chester County has 1,353 marketable acres available, twice what we have. Kershaw has 1,000+ marketable acres and Orangeburg County, a big competitor of ours, has 1,850 acres ready to go,” Davenport said. “Orangeburg has 10 industrial parks compared to our two – the Fairfield Commerce Center and the Walter Brown Industrial Park. And these numbers don’t include mega sites.”

Davenport said the County has about 475 buildable acres in the Fairfield Commerce Center and only 32 total buildable acres in the Walter Brown Park.

“When recruiting industry, we have to be ready for them. Things happen faster today than they did 20 years ago, and the county that has marketable, ready-to-go property is going to do better,” Davenport said.

Asked what other inventory there is in the County, Davenport said there are six available buildings – the former Mack Truck building, (676,000+ square feet), the former Caterpillar building (50,000+ square feet), the spec building (75,000 square feet), the 123,000-square-foot Charm building in Ridgeway that has only 22,000 square feet available, the Fazio (Plastec) building (175,000 square feet) on Highway 34 and about 20,000 square feet available in the 65,000+ square foot Ying Zin building in Walter Brown Park. All but the spec building are privately owned but marketed by the County.

“With the improving economy, the Mack Truck building has been getting lots of looks lately. It’s one of only six buildings over 600,000 square feet available in the whole state. It has rail and a new $3 million roof. It’s a clean building inside with a clean environmental report. It’s ready to go,” Davenport said. “It’s a big property with a lot of value on 150 acres. It could be expanded up to a million square feet fairly easily. A company that’s interested in a big building in South Carolina will look at it,” Davenport said. “Besides the potential jobs, that building can bring in significantly more property taxes annually for the County than the $400,000 it now generates.”

The only other site that could hold a building the size of the Mack Truck building is a 100-acre site located in the 210-acre second phase of the Fairfield Commerce Center. That site will be ready to market in late spring. Graders are currently adding water and sewer lines and roads.  That work is being financed with $7 million from the County’s $24 million bond money.

Davenport said the County has saved about $1 million on the project by redesigning part of the site and securing almost $700,00 in grants. The County harvested a portion of the timber on the property and plans to use the proceeds to pre-grade building pads for new users.

Driving past BOMAG, a mid-size company that sits at the entrance to the Fairfield Commerce Center, Davenport pointed to a yard full of shiny yellow road paving equipment that the company assembles. He described the company as fantastic.

“It’s an international French-owned German company that employees 120 people and owns 120 companies around the world. That’s a good connection for us.” Davenport said.

For some in the County, the 1,200-acre mega site purchased last year on Highway 34 east of I-77 is the elephant in the room. Shortly after the County purchased the site, Val Green, a local engineer, announced during public comment session of a County Council meeting, that the property was full of granite and would be difficult to develop. Davenport said the state conducted geo technical studies on the property that show the granite to be well below the surface and should not be an issue. He also said soil borings were conducted on the site. Davenport conceded that this site, like all sites, has grading challenges. He also said the site would require water, sewer and natural gas before it would be marketable. However, he said the site has two big pluses.

“It’s the only industrial site the County owns that has rail access,” Davenport said. “That’s a top priority for the more desirable industrial sites.”

Another plus is that while the property cost a whopping $8,700,000, the County only had to kick in approximately $3,000,000. The Department of Commerce covered the remaining $6,000,000. The state has also agreed to assist in covering the cost of infrastructure for the site.

“This site is for the big one, the big user, the grand slam, the home run,” Davenport said of the mega site. “But it’s not going to be marketable for 12-18 months. We still have to design truck access.  As for rail access, a spur just needs to be constructed from the track to reach into the site,” Davenport said.

In the meantime, Davenport said the County is trying to recruit more good mid-size companies like BOMAG for sites soon to be available in its two existing industrial parks. “I’d like to bring in 10 companies like BOMAG,” Davenport said. “Ten companies bring in 10 accountants, 10 lawn care people, 10 people doing whatever. We want those people in the County. We’re trying to figure out ways to drive the local economy, not the national economy.”

While Davenport said he feels the County is woefully short on marketable properties, he rattles off some of the County’s assets.

“The region is attractive, and the County brings a lot to the table to attract good, clean industry,” he said. “We have 1.2 million people in a 60-minute drive time, giving us access to a good workforce – about half a million employed people – and companies are looking for people who are currently employed. We have Lake Wateree, Lake Monticello, proximity to an international airport in Charlotte and a world class zoo and university in Columbia. We have the Fairfield County museum and Carolina Adventure World in our back door, Gamecock sports, plenty of great housing in Columbia, Northeast Columbia, Blythewood and other rural and small town settings in the County. And the shopping in Ridgeway and Winnsboro is getting better every day. There’s something for everyone here,” Davenport said.

Another plus, Davenport said, is that Winnsboro and the County are becoming big assets to each other. He said the two leaderships are working together now to make things happen.

“County Administrator Jason Taylor has a background in town administration and understands town development. He has a passion for it.  We have a new grant writer in the Town, and the County has hired a new community development director who will be working not only with Winnsboro but the smaller towns in the County as well. What he’s doing will make my product easier to sell,” Davenport said.

“More than anything, I hope the people in the county understand that when the County buys land, we are not just land banking. We are trying to acquire an inventory to accommodate different size buildings that meet the needs of multiple end users,” Davenport said. “We have to have outside money coming in or the town and county will wither up. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to recruit money into the County.”