By Molly Parker
Economic Zones World’s plans to lay some 4 million square feet of warehousing and distribution space in Orangeburg County by 2020 is a long-term goal that requires looking past current economic conditions.
But even in the short term, the excitement around the company based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, might have economic benefits for the rural county that are hard to measure.
Called “derived externalities,” the spin-off from subsidiary Jafza South Carolina LLC’s planned industrial park is the retail, housing and other businesses that are looking to secure a place in what is being billed as the state’s future trade hub.
“People will say, ‘Wait a minute. Here’s one of the best in the world and it’s chosen an inland spot in South Carolina. What are we missing?’ ” said Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission. “Why does Lowe’s follow Wal-Mart? Because they know it will be successful.”
The buzz is creating interest outside the state, Robinson said, with a business on the West Coast having called recently about an existing speculative building it found while researching Orangeburg County after hearing about Jafza’s plans.
“That’s what’s so great about the impact, because the quality-of-life issues are those derived externalities,” Robinson said.
A lot is riding on Jafza’s blueprint.
‘Corridor of shame’
The logistics development is planned for an area along Interstate 95 that has been called the “Corridor of Shame” because of the high unemployment and poverty numbers the communities register.
Economic developers and political leaders who gathered in November at the 2008 Orangeburg County Economic Development Summit trumpeted the project as the economic engine that will pull one of the state’s poorest areas out of the doldrums.
“We will develop the wheel today to move these communities forward,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., one the event’s keynote speakers.
Clyburn said he first started working on a project such as this for Orangeburg County during his initial bid for Congress in 1992. Bringing it to fruition meant scrapping conventional wisdom that the area’s residents were destined to remain in poor conditions, he said.
Looking past the economy
The company plans to turn Orangeburg County into a place where goods from the Port of Charleston are stored and prepped for shipping across the East and Midwest. The location makes sense, planners say, as the Port of Charleston expands its capacity with a new terminal on the former Navy base and inland Charleston is relatively tight on space for this type of project.
Steve Eames, Jafza’s project manager, said that in a dozen or so years, the facilities in Orangeburg County would be able to handle 660,000 20-foot-long shipping containers a year.
By that year, Eames said, the development would have created an estimated 3,765 jobs in Orangeburg County and an additional 1,500 jobs across the state.
But with all the bad economic headlines of late, it’s hard to envision a rural Santee sod farm turning into an international logistics center any time soon.
Eames said the company is moving forward with confidence that market conditions will turn around.
“Let’s get ready for the wave, ’cause it’s coming,” he said.
At the summit, Eames laid out a rough sketch of the company’s development plans, which will be rolled out in phases until 2032. The majority of buildings would be up by 2020, a year Eames called “not too hazy.” At least some facilities, he said, will be out of the ground by 2013. Jafza plans to start designing horizontal infrastructure next year and begin site preparation in late 2009.
Getting in early
Some of the parties interested in securing a piece of the action aren’t waiting until then. The Miller-Valentine Group completed a speculative warehouse facility this fall inside the Orangeburg City/County Industrial Park.
Colliers Keenan, which is charged with leasing or selling the 150,183-square-foot building, notes its proximity to Atlanta and the Interstate 85/385 corridor, but also the major Jafza development that’s on the way.
“Orangeburg will soon be home to the fastest-growing port operator in the world,” broker Hagood Morrison said.
Jafza is a subsidiary of Economic Zones World that aims to create industrial and logistics parks around the world to serve its diverse customer base. The park in South Carolina would serve as Jafza’s entry into the United States, Eames said.
Orangeburg’s Robinson said the company’s potential success in the United States outside of South Carolina would further help solidify Orangeburg’s position in the global supply chain.
“I’m all for it,” Robinson said.
Reach Molly Parker at 843-849-3144.