Land buy paves way for jobs, industry

WINNSBORO – In its quest to attract and expand industry, Fairfield County is scooping up more property.

In May, Fairfield County Council gave final approval to purchase 66.67 acres from Weyerhaeuser at $6,000 an acre, or about $400,000, giving the county another location to recruit new industry. 

The land is located off Peach Road about four miles from I-77. It’s a distinctly different tract than the one designated for a wastewater treatment plant.

Ty Davenport, the county’s economic development director, said the Weyerhaeuser purchase agreement includes an option for Fairfield County to buy up to 500 acres. 

“We can purchase the rest in the future as we need it,” he said.

Virtually no county money was used to buy the land. The bulk of the money ($300,000) came from a state Department of Commerce grant. 

Additional funding came from Fairfield Electric Cooperative. The property falls within the co-op’s territory. 

Partnering with Fairfield Electric Co-op has additional benefits in that it opens doors to additional grant and funding opportunities, said County Administrator Jason Taylor.

“The county for some time has been looking to diversify the industrial property we have,” Taylor said. “Everything we have currently is in Dominion’s territory which is great, but it’s also nice to have another partner.

“There’s certain advantages that you get to have properties in the co-op territories,” Taylor added. “You get to pull down grant monies that they have available.”

The property’s specific location wasn’t disclosed until third reading of the purchase agreement on May 26, prompting a question from Councilman Douglas Pauley. Pauley said several constituents had reached out to him, asking why there wasn’t greater transparency any sooner.

Davenport said secrecy is often needed in land deals to prevent another entity from buying the property out from under the county, costing taxpayers more in the long run.

“If a speculative land buyer were to come in and put it under contract or buy it out from under us, we would lose the opportunity,” Davenport said. “Somebody could offer Weyerhaeuser more money than us, knowing that it was a good site, and then turn around and sell it back to us for more than they paid for it.”

Something similar occurred in another economic development project, said Council Chairman Neil Robinson.

Robinson said that because a council member leaked information about a planned county land purchase associated with a proposed wastewater treatment plant, the property’s price was driven up to $1.8 million.

Robinson didn’t name the council member. The budget council members approved Monday night included the $1.8 million.

“The land purchase, if you guys remember, wouldn’t have been $1.8 million if a council member hadn’t gone out and broadcast that information,” Robinson said. “It would’ve been far less than $1.8 million. It is a must that we get it. We are dead in the water without progress if we don’t get it.”

Elsewhere in the state, premature disclosure about prospective land buys has torpedoed entire economic development projects, Davenport said.

“In the past, there are other counties where that happened, where a speculative land buyer came in and bought the land from under the county and they lost their project, employment opportunities, and so forth,” he said.

As to which industries are targeted for the Weyerhaeuser tract, they haven’t been specifically decided at this point.

Davenport said he anticipates the site is suitable for advanced manufacturing, which lends itself to greater job creation. A targeted industry study is currently underway, which should help identify which industries.

“We’re going to do it in a first class manner. We’re going to be attracting bigger and higher end companies,” Davenport said.