NEWBERRY — County Councilman Les Hipp addressed the Newberry County Rotary Club at its bi-monthly meeting and gave the members there a summation of economic development efforts in Newberry County within the past year.
Hipp said county council has a vision to promote a progressive county that will be business friendly and industry friendly.
“We have a holistic approach to economic development to compete within the southeast and the world. And we systematically look for our weak points (for attracting industry) so we won’t have them,” he said at Friday’s meeting.
The speculative building in the Mid-Carolina Industrial Park on S.C. 773 is one example of an area the county has worked to improve.
“Now that we have that shell building, the county has had a number of interested parties to look at it and discuss it,” he said.
The building is 50,000 square feet but has potential to expand up to 150,000 square feet, if needed.
S.C. Department of Commerce Director Bobby Hitt did land options for the current BMW site and Hipp said Hitt sees much potential in Newberry County’s mega site.
In 2010 the county made offers to land owners using land options. In time the certified site is 1.6 million square feet.
“That area would encompass the original BMW plant and all its growth since then,” Hipp said. “The State Department of Commerce has told us it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when (a major industry comes there). I am very excited about our growth potential for the long term, particularly for sustained growth.”
He thanked local business leaders including Keith Avery with Newberry Electric Cooperative for their assistance in the process.
Hipp cited research stating that on average industry expansion brings a higher tax rate to the county and with fewer services needed than residential expansion would.
“So, in order for long term sustainable tax relief,” he said, “we need more business growth.”
To that end he told Rotary members of how Newberry County Director of Economic Development Theresa Powers attends numerous networking/business functions to market Newberry as a business-friendly area.
With the business friendly aspect in mind, Hipp opened the floor for questions.
Some items he shared during Q & A included:
• Upgrading the county airport terminal is another project he said the county economic development team is putting time and effort into. He said two-thirds of the cost to upgrade the airport was paid by the state. Hipp said the airport is crucial to attracting corporations because of just-in-time delivery of freight via air.
• Councilman Scott Cain said discussions have taken place about lengthening runways and upgrading the airport but no concrete policy had come from those talks yet.
• Relying upon smart growth model, engineers located the old Walmart facility to transform into Piedmont Tech. Projected costs were $8 million and he said the money could not have been raised via Capital Sales Tax Initiative had the Newberry legislative delegation not gotten involved to support legislation that added the PTC project to the items allowed on a capital sales tax initiative list.
“The County actually saved money because an emergency operations center must be earthquake proof and it was more feasible to build a separate facility than making the entire old armory earthquake proof,” he said.
“Last year, our county received the J. Mitchell Graham Memorial Award in recognition for exhibiting the best qualities and support (functions) of local government,” Hipp said. “And we competed against Spartanburg, Charleston, Greenwood and others.”
• Tearing down the old dog pound on S.C. 34 is a part of plans to remove unsightly buildings that would give the wrong impression to a potential industry.