From Volvo to W International, the days of big economic announcements have arrived for Berkley County
Jan 16, 2019 11:17AM
By Kathleen Maris
By Dan McCue
"Where do I begin?" Berkeley County Economic Development Director Barry Jurs says when asked about the county’s prospects in 2019.
"We've had a lot of business activity in the past year with a lot of wonderful companies locating or looking at locating in Berkeley County, and I expect that to continue for us and for our region as a whole," he says, somehow managing to sound both humble and jubilant at the same time. "It's been ... a robust time.”
That, it turns out, was an understatement.
In fact, according to Berkeley County's website, it is the fastest-growing county in South Carolina and the 40th fastest-growing county in the entire nation since 2010.
It is home to a Volvo Cars facility that now employs more than 1,000 people and is expected to hire nearly 3,000 more in the next three years. And this past summer, Google announced a $600 million expansion of its data center in the Mount Holly Commerce Park—bringing its total investment in Berkeley County to $2.4 billion.
A review of Berkeley County's economic development announcements is dizzying, even if you're just trying to suss out the high points.
Big announcements—meaning those creating 100 to 800 new jobs—came, on average, about every six weeks, beginning with medical device maker Med-Ally's $2.38 million investment in a new operations center in the county last January and culminating in W International's $35.2 million capital investment in December.
Speaking of the move to Berkeley County, Med-Ally CEO and co-founder Raja Edward Hitti points to the "many successful and class-leading companies" that already call the Charleston area home and how inspiring it was to join such company.
He also acknowledges the assistance of the region's economic development team, starting with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance and South Carolina Commerce Department, and extending to S.C. Research Authority and SC BIO, the not-for-profit, public/private life sciences industry association.
"We look forward to growing and prospering in Berkeley County," Hitti says. "We believe that we are surrounding ourselves with an enabling, empowering, and conducive team like no other."
Similarly, W International CEO Ed Walker says the ability of his Michigan-based, family-owned metal fabrications business to expand into Berkeley County "offers a unique opportunity to our clients and customers."
Like Hitti, Walker mentions the sense of community he felt when began to assess the Lowcountry, and the Charleston International Manufacturing Center at Bushy Park specifically, as the location for his new 451,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
It didn't hurt that Berkeley County and the region as a whole has a long and enduring relationship with the U.S. Navy, one of W International’s major customers. Nor did it hurt that the S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development, an entity administered by the state Commerce Department, has approved job development credits, as well as a $2 million Set Aside grant to the county to assist with the costs of the project.
With that welcome and those assurances, Walker says choosing Berkeley was easy, adding, “We are looking forward to being part of the Lowcountry community for decades to come.”
While companies continued to be drawn to the county throughout the year, earlier arrivals saw investments coming to fruition, most notably Volvo. County officials also celebrated the grand opening of Blackbaud's new expanded headquarters on Daniel Island and broke ground on the future Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites and Conference Center in Summerville, soon to be the tallest building in all of Berkeley County.
Keeping up the breakneck pace, the county also broke grounds for the new Camp Hall Commerce Park in Ridgeville and cheered high-voltage cable manufacturer Nexans after the French company announced an $80 million expansion of its plant in Goose Creek.
The Nexans expansion will add 135 employees to the company's workforce over the next two years. According to Berkeley County officials, the 6,800-acre Camp Hall commerce park could eventually be home to more than 10,000 jobs.
But when it comes to the reasons for Berkeley County's success as an economic development juggernaut, Jurs, a former economic development planner for Santee Cooper, doesn’t pause for a moment.
"I think when you have successes like Volvo choosing to come here in 2015, that catches the eye of the business community and puts you on the radar of people anticipating a move or an expansion. At that point, the characteristics of your community come into play," he says.
"When people look at Berkeley County, the first thing they note is our proximity to the Port of Charleston," he explains. "They see we've got excellent infrastructure—our highways and heavy rail—a solid and reliable power grid, and excellent water and sewer.
"And when you add up the transportation and utilities, sites that are development-ready, and the fact we have a very low millage rate compared to other counties in the state, all that adds up to our being a very attractive environment for investment and development," he says.
Jurs takes a lot of pride in Berkeley's business-friendly environment.
"Private investors are stepping in and developing sites, developing industrial parks, confident that businesses are going to continue to want to come here," he says. "That's the compounding effect of creating a successful business environment."
And the effect hasn't been limited to the headline-grabbing gets—like a Volvo—and their suppliers.
"We've got heavy industry and advanced manufacturing, information technology and life sciences, automotive firms and chemical industries, and, of course, the logistics and warehousing and transport that supports it all," he says. "So when it comes to economic development, Berkeley County hasn't been any one thing, and again, that gets the attention of a lot of different other companies.
"More than that, though, existing industry is the backbone of future growth—making it easier for new companies to come here—and for those companies that are already here, like Blackbaud, to expand to meet their future needs," he says, referring to a previously announced $150 million expansion by the Daniel Island firm, a move that will create an additional 300 jobs.
Looking forward to 2019, Jurs notes the county's economic development website, BerkeleyMeansBusiness.com, will be both a vehicle to appraise prospects of the work the county is doing to foster business growth and a way "to keep us connected with the rest of the world."
"We are also going to continue to work closely with our partners, the state Department of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, who both do marketing on our behalf," he says.
"There's a lot more strength in working together than in trying to go it alone, and frankly, if Charleston or Dorchester county win a project, it's still a win for us, because our residents will cross county lines to get to work."