Davenport: Fairfield poised for development

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – The announcement this month that Oldcastle APG purchased a facility in Fairfield County for $2.2 million, plans to invest $25 million and create 100 jobs paying $20+ an hour on the line, is an example of the county’s economic development program working, said Ty Davenport, the county’s economic development director who has helped bring six new companies and 700+ jobs to Fairfield county in the last six years.

It was a shell building the county invested in a few years ago that got Oldcastle’s attention. The company considered new construction on a county industrial site before ultimately choosing to purchase the 75,000-square-foot building in Ridgeway, Davenport said.

“They just kept going back to the shell building because it’s kind of plug and play: It’s already there, then they pour a floor, install their equipment and they’re off to the races,” he said. “Speed to market was a critical factor.”

This is how it goes in a lot of cases, Davenport said. A marketable asset, such as a shell building or uniquely developed industrial site, gets the attention of companies that are looking to site a facility. Those things put Fairfield County on their radar, and then they found out what we had to offer.

“It was encouraging to me because it wasn’t just the fact that there was an existing shell building,” he said. “Even if they had decided to go ‘greenfield’ other important factors – our location and workforce – were also a good fit.”

The term ‘greenfield’ refers to a site that hasn’t been built on yet – one that a company chooses to develop on its own. Most of the industrial sites the county offers are greenfield sites.

Davenport said the idea behind Fairfield County’s economic development philosophy is pretty straightforward: build it, market it and they will come. Provide all of the infrastructure a company needs for a site – things like water, sewer, electricity, natural gas, rail and highway access – and provide information on other factors like the local workforce, a big factor for companies when making site decisions.

Davenport said this effort has filled available industrial park sites nearly to capacity and underlies the development of a mega-site, which is currently underway.

The addition of sewer capacity with the county’s proposed wastewater plant, he said, will fill in a key gap in the plan, enabling the development of more industrial park land.

“We’ve bought about 700 acres, and we are in the process of rough-grading pads, preparing sites so that the next company that comes along can go vertical quickly without having to do a lot of site work. It takes a lot of risk and time out of the process for companies,” Davenport said. “We will most likely roll the money from the sale of the spec building into another spec building.”

The idea, Davenport said, is to attract employers to the county who hire well-paid workers, such as skilled machine operators, and also bring money into the county with the revenue generated by the business, its suppliers and any further development that may spring up around it.

This method of economic development has been used for years, and some states and localities have had better luck with it than others.

South Carolina has seen a streak of major wins in recent years. Davenport said Fairfield County is uniquely positioned in the Midlands to attract the kind of major manufacturers that have come to the upper and lower parts of the state.

He runs through a lot of employment and population numbers, with a clear conclusion: This part of the state still has an untapped workforce, and Fairfield is home to the mega-site.

The mega-site consists of 1200+ acres bought by the state, and Davenport said the hope is that an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), such as an auto maker, will locate here. Ideally, he’d like to see Fairfield County become home to a manufacturer of high-tech vehicle technologies, such as electric or self-driving cars.

“An OEM is not going to Greenville, and it’s not going to go down to Charleston,” he said. “The only place left that has population is the Midlands.”

The state helped with the land purchase, and the county is getting it ready for the hoped-for manufacturer. Regional economic development groups are marketing it alongside other industrial properties in the area, which could be used by suppliers.

South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, in an emailed statement, touted the state’s partnership with localities like Fairfield.

“South Carolina is committed to advancing our business-friendly environment and team-first approach to economic development. Our work with partners like Fairfield County is critical to recruiting new business and supporting the growth of existing industry,” Hitt said.

 “This week’s announcement that Oldcastle APG will be establishing operations in Fairfield County, bringing a $25 million investment and approximately 100 jobs, reinforces the impact of our pro-business climate and team effort,” Hitt said. “We look forward to continuing to work together to create more opportunities in Fairfield County and in all corners of our state.”

With major industries, the state also sometimes gets involved with incentive packages. For example, while the county can offer agreements that reduce business taxes for major industries – particularly those that drive development around them – the state can offer grants for infrastructure.

Davenport said the system is working for Fairfield – and, with the proposed wastewater treatment plant, he predicts big success going forward as the region competes, as other parts of South Carolina have, for major manufacturers.

“I think it’s going to work… I believe we’re in the growth path,” he said.

“Everybody knows that Charlotte’s getting closer to Columbia and Columbia’s getting closer to Charlotte,” he said, pointing to Rock Hill as the kind of development outside Charlotte that could be repeated – on smaller scale – in Fairfield County in relation to Columbia.

“In Rock Hill or in York County they don’t have to do product development anymore because private developers will come in, buy land and build a spec building. When you get to that point, you know you’ve made it,” he said. “That, I believe, is where Fairfield is going.”