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Columbia Business Monthly

Fairfield County: Hopes Lie in its Project-Ready Industrial Spaces

Oct 02, 2017 10:49AM ● By Makayla Gay

By Kristine Hartvigsen

Rural Fairfield County has been fortunate to experience a succession of industrial boons that kept its economy healthy even during challenging times. In the mid-1700s, cotton was the primary economic driver in Fairfield County. About 150 years later, it was blue granite, a premier material used in the construction of fine buildings across the country. The long-bustling Kincaid-Anderson Quarry, which mined blue granite (the official state stone), closed in 1986.

Each time one industry faded, another emerged, and this has often been the case in Fairfield County. In 1971, construction began on the Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station near Jenkinsville. In 1984, two years before the quarry closed, VC Summer’s Reactor Unit 1 began commercial operation. Today, that single reactor employs 700 permanent workers, making VC Summer the largest employer in the county.

“The safe operation for more than 30 years of VC Summer Unit 1 demonstrates the longevity of a nuclear plant to produce clean, safe, and reliable electricity,” says South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) spokesman Patrick Flynn. SCE&G owns 55 percent of the reactor project, while Santee Cooper owns 45 percent.

County economic development officials were ecstatic when, in 2008, the partnering utilities announced a deal with Westinghouse Electric to build two more reactors at the VC Summer site. The new reactors were expected, when completed by 2024, to employ more than 800 and generate an additional $80 million annually in tax revenue. However, after multiple delays, massive cost overruns, and a bankruptcy filing by Westinghouse, the utilities on July 31 announced that they would abandon the construction project. The decision instantly put more than 5,000 workers out of their jobs.

It was a double-whammy for Fairfield County, coming in the wake of DuraFiber Technologies closing its plant, which eliminated another 230 jobs.

“The construction of the nuclear plant was a good thing, but we are still moving forward elsewhere with other projects,” says Ty Davenport, economic development director for Fairfield County. “We have just bought 1,200 acres along I-77. We’re calling is our ‘Mega Site.’ It’s in the arsenal for the next big project.”

Like many counties in South Carolina, Fairfield County has developed what some call “shovel-ready sites.” These are parcels of land that have been surveyed, zoned, and environmentally qualified in advance and are ready for companies to come in and develop without delay. The S.C. Department of Commerce in 2014 launched its Industrial Site Certification Program to facilitate the establishment of pre-certified, project-ready sites that can expedite site selection by prospective companies.  

Fairfield’s project-ready site offerings include the 54-acre Walter B. Brown II Industrial Site, the 434-acre Avery Industrial Site, and its newest, the Fairfield Commerce Center, a 684-acre, business and industrial Park convenient to I-77. BOMAG Americas, a producer of asphalt pavers and other road building products, became Fairfield Commerce Center’s first tenant in 2014, building a 127,600-square-foot headquarters to house offices, machine assembly, and warehouse space. BOMAG’s $18.2 million investment has created more than 120 new jobs.

“We believe this area offers our company several benefits, such as close to port of entry, proximity to air hub for spare parts fulfillment, and a climate conducive to offering year-round sales and service training for our customers,” says Walter Link, president of BOMAG Americas. 

As the devastating VC Summer news broke, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speculated hopefully that Santee Cooper might sell its share to one or more investors who would partner with SCANA and reboot the project. At least $3 billion would be needed to restart construction.

“I am not optimistic that the plant project will be restarted. It’s a long shot,” Davenport says.

Meanwhile, VC Summer’s one operating reactor is licensed to operate until 2042.

“There are approximately 700 permanent SCE&G V.C. Summer Unit 1 employees,” Flynn says. “SCE&G pays more than $20 million per year in property taxes to Fairfield County. This is a significant support to schools, roads, and other important local infrastructure. SCE&G’s V.C. Summer Nuclear Station is (still) the largest employer in Fairfield County.”

VC Summer Unit 1 also goes offline approximately every 18 months for refueling and maintenance. When this happens, it temporarily lifts the local economy for up to two months.

“For our previous refueling and maintenance outage, approximately 1,100 supplemental personnel joined permanent SCE&G Unit 1 employees to support work activities,” Flynn says. “These additional workers live in the community and patronize local businesses, providing a boost to the local economy. From labor to equipment and material orders, work during the refueling outage involved more than 150 South Carolina companies, benefiting the state’s economy.”

Davenport believes the project-ready industrial spaces available in Fairfield are primed to lure additional manufacturing businesses.

“We always have activity,” Davenport says. “Traffic has been good throughout the county in terms of looking at investment properties.”