Dorchester builds plants so companies will come

Charleston Post and Courier
Charles Williams, Staff Writer
March 1, 2002

Dorchester County is a collector of plant-sized “shells.”

But these shells aren’t the fossilized kind. And the plants don’t grow in the ground. A shell is the name coined for unoccupied structures that relocating companies modify and move into right away. These “plants,” are of the manufacturing variety. The county has assembled four such shells in the past eight years, and they all were quickly grabbed up.

Four companies – an engine component manufacturer, a distributor, a marble maker and a company that makes fibers for air filters – were so impressed with them that they signed on the dotted line before work was completed.

“Our speculative building program has given us a competitive edge,” said Randy Scott, chairman of Dorchester County Council.

Dorchester now has two more speculative buildings it can market – a 30,000-square foot building in Eastport Commerce Park outside of Summerville that was just dedicated, and a 10,000-square-foot structure that’s being built in the St. George New Century Industrial Park. That building can be expanded to 30,000 square feet.

Both facilities are already drawing interest.

“We’ve already shown them to a couple of prospects,” said Jim Friar, director of economic development.

The shell structures are great for companies that want an existing structure. They allow the company to change the floor plan without the additional expense of removing the floor or adding concrete to support equipment or drains. All of the buildings can be expanded.

Companies can move into the buildings much quicker and save at least 120 days of construction time. They also don’t have to worry about the permitting process.

“Everything’s done,” Friar said. “There are no risks involved.”

Dorchester County got into the spec building business because many of its prospects look at buildings rather than sites.

“Today’s industries are moving at a faster pace than ever before,” Scott said. “Most firms that look in the region are looking for existing buildings.”

The purchase price for the Eastport building will be about $800,000 and the St. George structure $300,000, Friar said.

Friar said the county is also considering building yet another speculative building, one in the 50,000 to 100,000-square-foot range somewhere along Highway 78.

“No decision has been made,” he said. “It’s still in the planning stage.”

Economic activity, which slowed down this past year due to the recession, is now at a torrid pace, Friar said.

The Charleston Regional Development Alliance has been responsible for sending a few of the prospects Dorchester County’s way, Friar said. Meanwhile, several companies are considering expanding. “That makes my job easy,” he said.

Dorchester County doesn’t look for huge companies to come in and build massive plants employing thousands of people. An exception is the county’s largest employer, Robert Bosch Corp., which makes parts for the automotive industry and employs 2,000 people. The county focuses on companies that employ 40 or 50 people.

If a company has to shut down, the county isn’t faced with a lot of unemployed workers.

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