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Columbia Business Monthly

Infrastructure, Quality of Life Drivers for Food Manufacturers

Oct 02, 2017 10:45AM ● By Makayla Gay

By Emily Stevenson

Food manufacturers have quite an appetite for the Midlands; the area is home to such household names as Kraft/Heinz and Starbucks. But what’s encouraging these companies to take a bite out of the Midlands?

Adequate infrastructure is a major consideration for food and beverage manufacturers, many of whom require additional water or sewer resources for their facilities.

“Not every location has excess water and wastewater capacity,” says Mark Williams, president of Strategic Development Group, Inc. “Yes, they’re typical factors, but they’re profoundly positive in Columbia, and other areas don’t all have them.”

Williams is in the site selection business. While his firm works all over the United States, Williams says that they do business in Columbia from time to time, and the area’s amenities are far superior to those in other parts of the country.

“The fact that the Midlands is so connected via so many interstates and has a satisfactory skilled labor pool has made it a good choice for companies in the past,” he says.

Mike Briggs, president and CEO of the Central SC Alliance, agrees.

“The region has a strong transportation network with easy interstate access to major markets along the East Coast,” Briggs says. “Access to the Port of Charleston is less than an hour from the region’s southernmost point.”

The Central SC Alliance is responsible for marketing the region’s assets to site consultants and companies around the world. Geographic location is one of the main assets for companies looking to locate in the area.

Transportation was certainly an important factor for Mars Petcare, whose Columbia site has been operating since 1995.

“From a geographic standpoint, our location is close to the interstates and railways, making this a central hub to supply Pedigree dry dog food throughout the entire southeastern United States,” says Jason Ayres, Mars Petcare site manager.

In addition to being close to highways for easy distribution, the site is also central to many of the company’s suppliers.

“The close proximity of our suppliers makes our Columbia location ideal,” Ayres says. “We have suppliers located throughout the south who consistently support our manufacturing efforts with quality ingredients delivered efficiently to the factory every day.”

Ayres also says that the pipeline of associates has been easy to keep filled.

“Columbia and the surrounding areas have grown tremendously in the past few years,” he says. “As the plant has grown, we have had great success finding qualified candidates in the local area.”

House of Raeford Farms, a poultry processing plant in West Columbia, is one of the largest employers in Lexington County, with 800 employees. Dave Witter, manager of corporate sustainability and communications, says that the area’s all-around quality of life was the driving factor in determining the original location of the plant.

“The Midlands is a great place to work and live, and that continues to be the best part of doing business here,” Witter says. “Good schools, good neighborhoods, proximity to interstate systems, and population base are all benefits we find here.”

Ayres agrees.

“The Columbia area offers an affordable cost of living, a family-centric culture, and many amenities for fun, food, and shopping that our associates enjoy,” he says.

The economic impact these companies have goes beyond happy employees. House of Raeford has five operations in South Carolina, including two processing facilities (the West Columbia facility and one in Greenville), a feed mill and hatchery in Monetta, and a further processing facility in Hemingway. Across the state, the company pays $19.5 million in salaries annually and boasts nearly a statewide economic impact of nearly $1 billion.

In addition to their business activities, the food and beverage manufacturers are also active in their local communities.

Our favorite parts about doing business in the Midlands is giving back to the community,” says Witter. FLOCK, House of Raeford’s nonprofit organization, donated 100,000 pounds of products to food banks and ministries in the Midlands and partnered with such organizations as Lighthouse 4 Life, Ezekiel Ministries, and Harvest Hope Food Bank.

Mars Petcare employees are also active in the community through the company’s global Mars Volunteer Program.

“The Columbia team works with organizations such as Pawmetto Lifeline and the local Meals on Wheels program,” says Ayres. “These events are part of ongoing charitable work across the Mars Petcare network that has given more than $5 million in cash and products to organizations like these across the U.S.”

Others are starting to notice the impact. This year, Mars Petcare was recognized as one of 12 Industry Impact winners from across the state, honored by Gov. Henry McMaster and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“This was a very special award for the site and shows our commitment to the business and local community,” says Ayres. “Making a better world for pets is our goal and supporting the local communities in which we live and work is at the heart of everything we do.”