Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inland port on horizon

By Robert Behre (Contact)
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SANTEE — Melvin Bannister stood outside his house and was asked to imagine how his rural community might change when Jafza International begins building here next year.
Photo Gallery

Corridor of Hope

When U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn ran for re-election in the fall, he said improving the Interstate 95 corridor was his 'obsession.' 'That is one of the major arteries in our country, and to have the stretch in South Carolina the poorest, least educated, most unhealthy communities in our state, that's an abomination,' he said. The election of Clyburn and President Barack Obama provides new hope. The Post and Courier visited four communites along I-95 -- Dillon, Florence, Santee (and Orangeburg) and Walterboro.

Jerome Prosser bails rows of Switchgrass.

Enlarge photos | View gallery

He hasn't seen the plans, but he knows the Dubai-based company, a subsidiary of Economic Zones World, plans to build on a sod farm close to his family's homes and about 26 adjoining acres they have leased to a cotton farmer.

Bannister said he knows older residents have lived here for a while, "and they ain't rushing to move."

But the enormous project could be the single biggest game changer for economic development along Interstate 95, one of the poorest parts of South Carolina.

The plan from Economic Zones World, which owns Jafza International, would establish a campus of light manufacturing, warehouse and distribution operations, creating a sort of inland port that could employ more than 3,000 people by the time it starts operations in 2012.

"Jobs-wise, it will be something in the long run (that will be) good for the community," Bannister said. "Right now, we're just waiting for when somebody comes along and says something to us, then we'll go from there."

The prospect of Jafza's arrival and the creation of an inland port here is a partial culmination of something U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has pushed for since he first got elected from South Carolina's 6th District in 1992. Clyburn has called the I-95 corridor his "obsession."

Years before Clyburn was elected to Congress, he served on Gov. John West's staff and saw a memo about how industrial developers were steering prospects away from Interstate 95 and toward Interstate 85, largely because they feared the minority population along I-95 would be more receptive to unions.

"It was all part of the anti-union movement — who is inclined to join unions?" Clyburn said. "That's why all the development is up along the I-85 corridor."

Clyburn said the I-95 corridor also didn't have a big advocate until he was elected in 1992 as the state's first black congressman since Reconstruction.

He noted that the Jafza project has been made possible only after he helped establish the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency, which currently provides water to the Santee community.
Corridor of Hope

Read the series on improving economic condidtions along the I-95 corridor from The Post and Courier.

When work began on the water plant, Clyburn called it one of the most significant events he has ever been involved with. "For some residents, this is the first step toward quality drinking water and for some communities, it is the first step toward attracting much-needed economic investments," he said. "Just as transportation infrastructure is the asset that will drive the economy along the I-95 corridor, the lack of this crucial puzzle piece in other areas of this region has contributed to the most pronounced negative conditions in remote areas of this region."

Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission, is one of the county's greatest cheerleaders, and he is acutely aware of how Jafza's plans could reshape the public perception of business opportunities along I-95.

"Our mission is to increase the quality of life. How you do it is quality payroll," he said. "When you look at the 95 corridor, it's one of the poorest, least- developed corridors in the nation, and we have the opportunity to fix that. They're not making any new land on I-85."

To keep Jafza on track, Orangeburg County and Santee plan to work with federal and state governments on two new pieces of infrastructure for the area they're now calling the "Global Logistics Triangle," the land bordered by Interstates 26 and 95 and U.S. Highway 301.

That work includes a new $11 million sewer treatment plant planned by the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency, as well as a redesign of the I-95 and U.S. 301 interchange.

John McClauchlin, a project manager with the Orangeburg County Development Commission, noted that local voters already have indicated they are willing to chip in, approving a continuation of the county's local sales tax that's expected to provide about $71 million to help with 115 different projects.

As the pieces fall into place, Robinson said the project could transform the southern part of the county.

"What Jafza offers, what the economic zone offers, is so different," he said. "They currently have 6,000 customers. They're creating a linkage to the world for us. It's not a typical developer. These guys are the biggest and the best in the world, especially with the acquisition of Gazeley, the international arm of Wal-Mart. ... Their contacts list is tremendous."

Santee Mayor Silas Seabrooks Jr. said his town with fewer than 1,000 residents could see 3,000 new jobs within the next four years.

He said the only things that might not change are the town's golf courses and its lake — and hopefully its image as an oasis for recreation.

"The rest of it will change," he said. "You will have negative feedback as well as positive. That comes with the territory. Anytime you grow, you've got growing pains."

But Seabrooks said he is confident the project will help the town's morale.

"I would like to see some of the kids who graduate out of college come back home and work, get a job and pay something back to the society," he said.

As the Panama Canal gets widened and more ships seek ports along the East Coast, and as Charleston's port expands, Seabrooks might get his wish.

"It's coming up 26," Robinson said. "We're in the path of progress, so we've got to get ready for it. ... We're fortunate because we have a lot of land."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or rbehre@postandcourier.com.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jafza, other developments are No. 3 story of 2008

By DIONNE GLEATON, T&D Staff Writer Sunday, December 28, 2008

“Going Global, Acting Local, Coming to the Table – Vision 2020” was the theme of Orangeburg County’s economic development summit held in November.

It included the much-anticipated unveiling of the Dubai-based Jafza International’s master plan, which was presented by Steve Eames, executive vice president for operations of Jafza Americas Inc. and Jafza South Carolina LLC.

Jafza, a subsidiary of Dubai World, first announced in September 2007 its intent to invest between $600 million and $700 million in Orangeburg County near Santee.

Plans call for a 1,300-acre logistics, manufacturing and distribution park that could mean about 6,000 direct jobs.

The master plan will include a 20-year market-demand analysis, an environmental-impact study, a traffic impact study, a wetlands study and an endangered-species study.

Jafza said it planned to begin the permitting process by year’s end and to break ground in October 2009. The company hopes to have its first clients open for business in 2010.

Announced in February were plans to create a 1,200-acre business center near Bowman by Charleston-based World Trade City Orangeburg LLC. The business center is anticipated to draw $1 billion in investment and bring 1,000 jobs over a 10- to 15-year period.

World Trade City plans a mixed-use logistics center touted as an “International Standard Modern Commercial Industrial City,” which will combine office and exhibition space with warehousing and distribution facilities.

WTCO Chief Executive Officer Jimmie Gianoukos said that the project is still very viable and is being advertised around the world, but the souring economy has impacted development.

“We’re not quite ready to start on it yet, but we’re still bullish on it. We feel very confident that at some point and time we will come out of the ground with it.

“Everybody likes the idea, it’s just a matter of it being the right time. Hopefully, with a little bit of luck, we’ll be able to get something up this summer or fall of this coming year,” Gianoukos said.

“I think everybody’s holding everything close to the vest right now. It’s definitely alive and being worked on. We feel very much like it’s just a matter of time before we’re going to launch it.”

T&D Staff Writer Dionne Gleaton can be reached at dgleaton@times anddemocrat.com and 803-533-5534. Comment on this and other stories at www.TheTandD.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

S.C. counties to benefit from neighbor’s ‘big score’

By Charles Taylor
SENIOR STAFF WRITER for the National Association of Counties

Change is on the horizon along a stretch of Interstate 95 in rural South Carolina that has come to be known as the “corridor of shame.”

County officials attending a recent regional economic development summit in Orangeburg County got a preview of a major project that many hope will lift this area’s fortunes and change its nickname to “corridor of fame.”

ImageJafza International, a company based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, plans to invest $600 million to build a distribution hub near the town of Santee in largely rural Orangeburg County. It’s a place where good jobs are scarce and the poverty rate is high, thus earning its unflattering moniker.

The site is in an area dubbed the “Global Logistics Triangle,” bordered on three sides by Interstates 95 and 26, and U.S. Route 301. This “inland port” would receive shipments from the Port of Charleston, the second busiest on the East Coast, about 60 miles away.

For local officials who attended the Orangeburg County Economic Development Summit last month — where Jafza unveiled its master plan — it is the culmination of more than a decade of regional cooperation.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip who represents the area, has called the development a “game-changer.” When fully built-out, Jafza estimates the project could create some 3,700 new jobs by 2020 and thousands more spin-off jobs. Currently, the unemployment rate in Orangeburg County, population 92,000, currently hovers around 12.5 percent, compared to 7.5 percent statewide, according to Gregg Robinson, the county’s economic development director.

Twenty-one percent of the county’s residents lived below the federal poverty level in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — compared to 15 percent statewide.

For Orangeburg and five neighboring counties, attracting Jafza’s first U.S. venture can be traced back in large part to a joint effort — over more than a decade — to develop water infrastructure.

Orangeburg and the counties of Berkeley, Calhoun, Clarendon, Dorchester, Sumter, and the town of Santee, worked together to create the Lake Marion Regional Water Authority. Its facility provides 8 million gallons per day, which is enabling development in this economically depressed region.

“That has really been the one thing that has solved the capacity issue for this whole area of I-95,” said Bill Clark, Orangeburg County administrator. “We have just never had the water and wastewater infrastructure to support development along this triangle.”

Jason Ward, Clark’s counterpart in Dorchester County, to the south, said, “We’re kind of literally doing community development through the Lake Marion regional water agency, as well as industrial development.”

The $30-plus million waterworks began operating about a year ago, and Clark said the project “required all of these six counties to learn how to work together for the good of the whole.”

“It’s the result of better than a decade worth of prioritization of our limited resources,” Clark added, “and a whole host of collaborations that we developed with our municipal entities in our county, our neighboring counties and most critically, local imposition of a 1 percent sales tax to be able to put in the infrastructure that made the [Jafza] project possible.”

Orangeburg County voters have twice approved the penny-per-dollar tax whose proceeds helped fund the water authority, and other economic development and community enhancement projects.

Orangeburg and Dorchester counties’ fates are intertwined along their shared border — between lower Orangeburg and upper Dorchester — where the counties “share very similar unemployment stats,” Ward said. Overall, Dorchester County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, less than 6 percent. But in the northern part of the county, “unemployment is 9.5 percent and over 22 percent for African Americans,” he said.

The area also has a high school dropout rate 10 percent higher than the statewide average, Ward said.

To improve its outlook, and the region’s, Orangeburg has developed other cooperative agreements with counties, said Robinson, the county’s economic development director. For example, Orangeburg and Dorchester are conducting a joint study of I-95 and I-26 to determine which exits are suitable for industrial development. “The idea is, Dorchester benefits from what we do, and vice versa,” he said.

The two counties are also collaborating on a multi-county industrial park. South Carolina allows counties with “underdeveloped” industrial tax bases to jointly build industrial parks with counties whose tax bases are more developed.

Dorchester is considered to be more developed than Orangeburg, Ward said, and the partnership allows Orangeburg to receive an additional $1,000 in state Commerce Department jobs tax credits per job created.

“…As a result of that, any project that lands in an area that is designated as a multi-county industrial park in Orangeburg pays 99 percent of its fee in lieu of taxes to Orangeburg and 1 percent to Dorchester,” Ward explained.

Robinson said three other counties are collaborating to create a “mega-site” of more than 1,000 acres — Clarendon, Sumter and Lee counties. “It’s not [located] in all three counties, but it’s close enough” to benefit them all, as well as Orangeburg County, Robinson said. “There’s nothing that would benefit me more, or Jafza when they bring in their [suppliers].”

Ward summed it up: “Our fates are definitely tied together, and it is a regional approach and one that I think is really going to pay big dividends for our citizens.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jafza to set up free trade zone in India

posted on 21/12/2008
Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza), the flagship brand of the world's biggest developers and operators of economic zones and business parks, Economic Zones World (EZW), will set up a free trade warehousing zone (FTWZ) at Raigad, in Maharashtra, India.
Jafza has been given an ‘in-principle' clearance by the Board of Approval in the Commerce Ministry for setting up a SEZ on the country's western coast.
The SEZ to be built over an 85.12-hectare area will host free trade warehousing firms, provide state-of-art logistics to companies doing trade and business with companies across Asia, the CIS and Africa.
"FTWZ would position India as an international centre for trading,” said LB Singhal, Director, Export Promotion Council – EOUs and SEZ.
While India's merchandise trade is expected to grow up to US$500 billion (Dh 1,837bn) in the current fiscal, it suffers from the lack of global standard logistics such as warehousing. However, the absence of such facilities in the midst of growing trade offers business opportunities to investors in the area of logistics.
Jafza is expected to extend its vast knowledge and experience from its Dubai operations and from other parts of the world.
Jebel Ali Port in Dubai is a part of DP World, which is the fourth largest port operator in the world.
Jafza spans 49 square kilometres and is situated between Jebel Ali Port – the world's seventh largest seaport – and the upcoming Jebel Ali International Airport, the world's largest cargo airport near Dubai International Airport.
In its 21 years of operation, Jafza has posted more than 300 times growth in its number of companies expanding from 19 in 1985 to about more than 6,000 in 2007.
When the FTWZ in Maharashtra, India, is developed, it will be able to give partners an easy and quick access to many ports across Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States as well as Africa. – Emirates Business

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why is S.C. State's Transportation Center still unfinished?

By LEE TANT, T&D Staff Writer Sunday, December 14, 2008

South Carolina State University President Dr. George Cooper says completion of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Research and Conference Center on campus is his highest priority.

“I want to get it done as soon as possible,” he said.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the U.S. House majority whip, said he thinks “very little” of the progress made thus far to get the project bearing his name off the ground. The multifaceted project had a ceremonial groundbreaking in October 2005.

To date, the Clyburn Center has not seen any vertical construction. But the site work -- which includes clearing land, roads and removing existing infrastructure -- for the project has recently been completed.

S.C. State was first granted a university transportation center (UTC) in 1998 when Congress passed sweeping national transportation legislation. It was later named in honor of Clyburn by the S.C. State Board of Trustees.

University officials say issues with meeting the state’s water-pressure standards, hiring a construction firm and completing a traffic study are halting construction.

They hope the first bricks will be laid soon.

Clyburn, an S.C. State alumnus, believes the brick and mortar for the project should have come together a long time ago.

“I just don’t believe, by any stretch of the imagination, that if any of the other publicly supported institutions had gotten this transportation center, it wouldn’t be up and running by now,” he said.

Clyburn doesn’t believe the funding he’s already secured for the center is in jeopardy, however he said he “will not seek additional funding for this project at South Carolina State until the administration commits sufficient time and professional attention to it.”

Cooper says the university’s ability to move forward with the project has been hampered by the state’s procurement regulations. He could not provide a definitive date as to when the Clyburn Center would be fully up and running.

Cooper said he is frustrated by the procurement process and doesn’t fully understand it or the reason for the holdup.

He said the university has $27 million to go forward with the first phase of the 33-acre project on the campus near Russell Street.

The Clyburn Center will house a research center, university offices, archives, executive guest suites and a conference center.

Complete Article

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

‘Santee Town Center’ a dream, becoming a reality

Martha Rose Brown
Assistant Editor Santee Striper

“It’s really just getting started,” said Ron Nester Sr., the attorney representing Santee Ventures LLC, an investment group located in Santee, “and it may take 10 years to blossom.”
Nester recently sat down with this newspaper reporter to outline details of “Santee Town Center,” a residential and commercial development soon to be underway near the intersection of Bass Dr./Hwy. 15 and Old Number Six Hwy. in Santee (including the Centerpointe neighborhood).
Included in the project are the following totals: 169,400 sq. feet of commercial space; 6,900 sq. feet of amenities; 246 apartment units; 80 units in a quadraplex; and 112 units of single-family residences.
The area for “Santee Town Center” includes land on both sides of Old Number Six Hwy. and Bass Dr./Hwy. 15 for a total of 76 acres.
“It will be a pedestrian-friendly area, complete with four parks,” Nester said.
“In other words, it will reduce the reliance on a person’s automobile and allow a person to spend more time in their own neighborhood,” he explained.
Nester said that Santee Ventures LLC began working together last year, but officially formed just a few months ago.
The initial phase of developing “Santee Town Center” will include the demolition of the Tastee Food Restaurant and Mansion Park Motor Lodge.
Dates for demolition of these structures has not yet been set, Nester said.
In early half to middle of 2009, Nester said Santee Ventures LLC will likely be adding office buildings to an already existing mini-office park – which would create a larger business park.
The immediacy of the development of “Santee Town Center” depends partly on Jafza South Carolina’s schedule for construction of a container port and light-manufacturing facility at the intersection of I-95 and Hwy. 301.
Nester said he and Santee Ventures LLC investors are looking forward to watching Santee grow and develop a cozy and thriving “Santee Town Center.”
To receive updates about Santee developments, access a weblog maintained by Ron Nester Jr. at www.santeesc.blogspot.com.

Roads, bridges could be built under Obama plan

By LEE TANT, T&D Staff Writer Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Local agencies are getting their wish lists in order in case President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus plan becomes a reality. It could pump billions into road, bridge and other infrastructure projects across the nation.

If enacted, Obama’s plan could cause long-discussed local projects such as improving the U.S. Highway 301/Interstate 95 interchange to become a reality sooner rather than later.

“I’m confident the needs in our region are just as severe and as much-needed as any other community in the country,” said Wayne Rogers, executive director of the Lower Savannah Council of Governments.

With the infrastructure needs in the region, he thinks local projects stand “a very good chance” of receiving significant funds from a potential economic stimulus package.

He does caution, “We may not get everything we ask for.”

Obama told the Associated Press that “shovel-ready” projects would get first priority under his plan because they would instantly create jobs. No dollar amount has been assigned to the plan at this time.

Rogers said his office is putting together a list of “ready-to-go” projects in the region for the federal government to consider funding under Obama’s plan. “Ready-to-go” projects are projects that have cleared regulatory hurdles but are awaiting funding.

Projects in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties include:

n An interchange on Interstate 26 at the Calhoun County Industrial Park.

n Interchange improvements at U.S. 301/Interstate 95 in Orangeburg, which are estimated to cost $60 million. Jafza-South Carolina has said the improvements are needed for its planned $600 million logistics/industrial park, which could create more 3,700 direct jobs over the next 12 years.

n Widening U.S. Highway 78 in Orangeburg and Bamberg counties, which has an estimated $64 million price tag.

n Making the I-95/I-26 interchange more functional by creating a full cloverleaf-shaped exit ramp, making wastewater improvements and other changes at an estimated cost of $150 million.

n Adding $6 million in water lines to areas adjacent to I-26 and I-95.

n Adding a rail spur for the Orangeburg County Industrial Park.

Rogers believes the construction could be a catalyst for short- and long-term economic growth.

“We’re not talking about frivolous things. This has the potential for future growth. ... It will create more jobs for communities in the area,” he said.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C, will focus on using any stimulus money for infrastructure projects along the I-95 corridor, according to spokesperson Hope Derrick. In addition, Clyburn wants to move forward with the next phases of existing projects.

“It is too early to talk about specific projects that will be included in the bill,” Derrick said via e-mail.

The S.C. Department of Transportation has two local items listed on its tentative economic stimulus “ready-to-go” project list. Projects on the list are ready to begin construction within 180 days.

The final list will be have to be approved in January, SCDOT spokesman Pete Poore said.

One item is the $17.5 million bridge replacement on U.S. Highway 78 at the Edisto River in Orangeburg and Bamberg counties.

Another local SCDOT project would replace four bridges in Calhoun and Richland counties over the Congaree River and swamps along U.S. Highway 601. That project will cost an estimated $41.5 million.

Statewide, SCDOT has more than $800 million in “ready-to-go” projects on its list.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, thinks Obama’s plan would “put people to work” and jump-start the economy.

However, Gov. Mark Sanford is opposed to another economic stimulus plan.

“Every penny of it would be borrowed. ... We don’t think it’s fair to pass along debts to future generations,” Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said.

n T&D Staff Writer Lee Tant can be reached by e-mail at ltant@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-534-1060. Discuss this and other stories online at TheTandD.com.

Monday, December 1, 2008

S.C. ranks sixth in nation for home value appreciation over the past year

From the Charleston Regional Business Journal

Staff Report
Published Nov. 25, 2008

South Carolina ranks sixth in the rate of appreciation for single-family homes over the past year, according to third-quarter statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Nationally, home values dropped 4% from the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2008, the report said. During that time in South Carolina, values rose 2.42%.

The nation’s 4% four-quarter decline was the largest four-quarter drop in the history of the index, which started in 1975.

The quarterly report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency is based on sales and refinancing data for existing single-family homes. Transactions included in the data are conforming, conventional mortgages purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

The report ranks states and metro areas only by yearly changes, but it also lists value changes for the third quarter of 2008. Those quarterly numbers are negative for most states and metro areas.

During the third quarter, home values dropped 0.45% in South Carolina, compared with a 2.68% drop nationally.

Among metro areas ranked by appreciation from third quarter 2007 to third quarter 2008, the Augusta-Richmond County MSA, which covers parts of South Carolina and Georgia, was No. 2 in the nation. The area, which saw values increase 5.48% over the year, fell behind only the Austin-Round Rock MSA in Texas.

The Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville MSA came in at No. 65, with 1.37% appreciation over the last year. The area’s values fell 0.30% during the third quarter of 2008.

The Columbia MSA is listed at No. 24, with 2.92% appreciation during the year. For the quarter, home values dropped 0.05%.

The Greenville-Mauldin-Easley MSA was No. 9 in home appreciation during the past year, at 4.55%. For the quarter, the Upstate MSA saw home values drop 0.61%.

Also in the Upstate, Spartanburg was No. 11, with a 4.12% appreciation rate over the year and a 2.2% increase in the third quarter. Anderson was No. 39, with 2.28% appreciation over the year and a drop of 1.86% over the most recent quarter.

“The impact of foreclosures and tightening credit conditions weighed heavily on house prices in the third quarter,” FHFA Director James B. Lockhart said.