Bringing in Industry
Development recruiting brings announcements; more progress seen.
Coming off news that is “fantastic” for Laurens County, according to County Council Chairman Brown Patterson, county leaders progressed forward this month on the economic development and community growth fronts.
Patterson referred to news from ZF Transmissions in Michigan and Gray Court-Owings that the local giant manufacturing plant will invest an additional $200 million and create 500 new jobs in Laurens County.
It was “unexpected,” Patterson said, and led the way in a economic push that will see ISO Poly invest an additional $5 million in its local plant, and development of Project Gray, an existing industry/European company that will invest $50 million and will create 39 new jobs. Patterson said Meiden America Inc. Switchgear, Fountain Inn, also is bringing in 41 jobs.
To facilitate growth, the Laurens County Council at its Feb. 9 meeting took four actions on the economic development front, signed off on two capital sales tax projects committees (two others were approved last month), and OKed a design for Laurens County welcoming signs at I-26 and I-385 gateways.
The signs already had received county funding; the new action was to approve a design - Option E - that gained the most traction in a survey of local business-people. The Cities of Clinton and Laurens already have gateway signs, and Laurens County has a Greenwood County-endorsed sign at the Lake Greenwood-Hwy 72 gateway.
It fulfills a vision of County Administrator Jon Caime who told the council when he was hired five years ago, “You go through Laurens County - and you don’t even know where you have been.”
In slow but steady progress, Caime and others have developed a unifying Laurens County design and found the money for signs and landscaping. Within the existing appropriation, County Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Andy Howard said there will be large signs on I-26 - Hwy 66 at Joanna - and I-385 - the Gray Court-Fountain Inn gateway - and there will be a smaller sign off I-26 coming in from Spartanburg. It could take as much as 6 months to get the necessary approvals from federal highway and state sources for the Laurens County welcoming signs.
Over the next 8 years, Laurens County and partnering agencies will spend the $35 million that voters approved Nov. 3, 2020 for The Capital Initiative. It will fund and build 16 projects.
For it to work, government officials and citizens will partner on supervisory committees. These are the panel so far approved by the Laurens County Council:
-- Agricultural Center Advisory Committee: Dr. John Irwin, Annette Bodie, Mason Addy, Jay Wham, Ellington Willis and an appointment to be made;
-- Historic Courthouse Advisory Committee: Nathan Senn, Amanda Munyan, Diane Anderson, Chrissie Latimore, Jamie Field, Robert Whitmore, and Jon Caime and Dale Satterfield, ex officio;
-- Clinton Public Library Advisory Committee: Garrett McDaniel, Venessa Stoddard, Kevin Suber, Jerre Threatt, Vickie Vance, Megan Walsh, and Rev. Sara Williams; and
-- Veterans Park Advisory Committee: Robert Sapp, Matt Smith, George Thompson, James Buchanan, Ernie Segars, and possibly a representative of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).
Another sales tax project is construction of a new evidence storage facility for the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office.
It will be designed as expandable sometime in the future for an entirely new Sheriff’s/Coroner’s Office Complex, at the Johnson Detention Center site. The Sheriff’s Office now is in downtown Laurens.
The building is envisioned at 5,432 sq. ft. Its development and construction is projected at $1,964,520.
Design will be done by Stewart Cooper Newell, of Gastonia, NC, for a Phase 1 price of $9,500 and a Phase 2 price of $171,000. The portion of the project dedicated to evidence storage will be reimbursable to the county from the Capital Projects Sales Tax Fund; the additional 1-cent tax will go into effect later this year, and will sunset after eight years.
If the county wants to build out the entirely new Sheriff’s Office, it will have to do so through bonds. Only evidence storage can be financed by the sales tax, and the funds cannot be co-mingled.
In a separate project, last week, Laurens County conducted a ribbon-cut opening of a new transfer station, a key element in handling the county’s 19 tons of trash per week.
All these new projects, and more, are considered by Laurens County officials as key elements in “getting the county moving” in the direction of growth, jobs and tax revenues. To enhance economic development even more, the full council has endorsed four recommendations of its Committee on Economic Development.
The County will appropriate to the Laurens County Development Corporation 5% per year of all FILOTs paid by industries.
This will be in place of the current $360,000 a year “off the top” of fees paid by industries. LCDC uses this money and investors’ investments to finance its 3-person staff.
The 5% will provide LCDC about $100,000 a year in new revenue, but that money will be tied to growth. It is an “incentive” to grow the county, the committee said.
The measure passed on a 6-0-1 vote, as Council Member Diane Anderson abstained.
The county streamlined the way money can be drawn from an account established from businesses in the Hunter Industrial Park in Laurens. Instead of full council approval, these funds will be controlled by a committee - Council Members of Districts 3, 4 and 5, the Laurens mayor, Laurens CPW board chair, and President/ CEO of the LCDC. Approval was unanimous.
The county council okayed a master park agreement for The Connexial Center with neighboring Greenville County. Connexial is Laurens County’s newest industrial park - an LCDC - Laurens Electric Co-op - SC Commerce Department partnership. Industries locating in these multi-county parks can qualify for fee-tax incentives.
Another of these parks in Laurens County is Octagon 1 - Gray Court/Owings. Fees here are split among the County and Schools of Laurens and Greenville.
Laurens County is increasing its measure from the Octagon park to 60% of revenues generated, from the current 40%.
Schools will be entitled to 30%, from the current 50%.
The county’s special projects fund will get 2.5%, and the county’s economic development reinvestment fund will get 7.5%.
Council Member David Tribble said he was going to vote “yes” but he said all these agreements need to be standardized, in terms of which money goes where (the county has 48 of these fee-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements). Council Member Garrett McDaniel voted “no” to this proposal, and Anderson abstained from voting.
(The next meeting of the Laurens County Council will be Tuesday, Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers, second floor of the historic courthouse in downtown Laurens. Masks are optional, and there is social-distance seating designated. These meetings also are broadcast on the Laurens County website.)